Monday, February 10, 2014

A Journey Back to Writing & Some Thoughts on Identity

As 2013 was coming to a close, I decided that 2014 was going to be the year that I became a writer. The first time that I can remember wanting to be a writer was when I was in junior high. Ironically enough, the movie Scream had come out, and in my angst-driven teenage mind, I thought it was the most brilliant piece of storytelling ever.1

Over the next few years, I took creative writing classes in high school where I wrote stories and screenplays, and I had a lot of fun creating stories in my head and putting them on paper. I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up at that time: a storyteller (through screenwriting, novels, and creative nonfiction). Then something happened that eventually led me to stop pursuing that dream.

I started following Jesus.

Looking back, I realize I bought into a cultural lie that being a storyteller wasn’t a noble calling for a believer, and I stopped trying to be a writer. I would still write from time to time, but my writing was more focused on devotional thought and expounding the Bible. Those things were good, but I missed storytelling.

Within a couple years, I came to believe that my calling was to be a church leader, a professional Christian. A career path that I believed was going to lead me to be a writer and creator for a living was suddenly and voluntarily derailed. I’m not saying I wasn’t genuinely called to that because it is the path I pursued and eventually embraced when I became a youth pastor a few years later. But within 5 years of achieving what I thought at the time was my calling, I walked away from it and into what felt like a vast wilderness where Jesus seems silent.

I don’t think there’s anything more threatening to your personal identity than to achieve your calling and discover that maybe it wasn’t your calling after all. The scariest question in the world is the question of “Who am I?” Without an answer to that question, we’re left desperately searching for the answer, and what we do find is often disappointing.

I’ve recently been reading a book that I feel confident I can say will be my favorite book of 2014. Skye Jethani, in his book Futureville, reveals the Christian cultural assumptions that lead people to believe that Christian ministry is the only noble calling for a believer. I wish this book would have been around 15 years ago, though I probably wouldn’t have gotten it at that time anyway.

Futureville has been a liberating book because Jethani seems to understand culture better than anyone I’ve come across and how an authentic biblical vision of God’s intent for the world impacts the way we live within the culture. Futureville is a game-changing book for understanding the Christian narrative and how it impacts how we live in the world. When we understand God’s end goal for the world, the things we do today have incredible meaning hold the potential seriously impact the world. I seriously love this book because it’s reminding me of things long-forgotten.

Many people define themselves by what they do instead of letting who they are define what they do.

This was the great lie I fell into as a young Christian. If I became a youth pastor, and that became my identity, then I was following a noble calling. Certainly a much nobler calling than being a storyteller.

Of course, when I became a youth pastor, I soon discovered that there’s an implicit hierarchy of noble callings even within the church world, and youth pastor is pretty low on the totem pole. You want to be taken seriously? Then trying being a lead pastor, or a deacon, or a worship leader, or maybe even a children’s minister. Ironically, even as a youth pastor, I couldn’t help being a storyteller, using story as a vehicle to teach the Bible almost every week.

Defining yourself by what you do can get pretty exhausting and it’s an absolutely unhealthy way to live. When you define yourself by what you do, there will always be someone whose identity is better than yours. In an unending cycle of comparison, no one really wins.

I’m a high school English teacher now. It turns out that part of my identity is revealed in my desire to understand students and help them find something bigger than themselves to live for, so maybe being a youth pastor wasn’t so far off from God’s calling for me after all. I get to be creative in my classroom and I get to have really good conversations with students at times about faith and Jesus’ desire for their lives.

Though I think all of us are always on a journey to discovering our core identity, I think I can see that part of who I am has always been revealed in being a writer. I love creating stories and I love communicating through writing, so while I teach writing during the day, I write when I’m not teaching.

Early in the morning. During lunch. After school. At night.

I told myself that 2014 was the year that I would become a writer, and so far, I’m doing exactly that.

I’m doing it because who I am is somehow tied to it.

I’m doing it because in a world where Jesus is making all things new, being a storyteller is a noble calling.

I’m doing it because I have a family who needs me to be who I am and provide for them.

I’m doing it because after fifteen years, the dream hasn’t gone away.

What is one thing you desperately long to do because you feel it reveals something about your core identity?

Photo Credit: Icedsoul Photography .:Teymur Madjderey via PhotoPin CC
Futureville Photo Credit: Thomas Nelson Publishers

1 I wouldn’t call Scream the most brilliant piece of storytelling ever now, though I do think that the original trilogy overall told an interesting story and emotional story even in the midst of blood and horror. Plus, one of the first dates I went on with my wife Lindsey was to the final movie in the original Scream trilogy. She got to see me grow out of my horror movie-obsession phase. I haven’t seen Scre4m. For me, the story was finished in 3. I’ve grown up in my taste for stories, but I still have an appreciation for the way Scream made me believe I could be a storyteller and sparked my love of the trilogy format.

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