I got into in interesting discussion on my Facebook page over this piece posted by the Daily Examiner in the UK. The piece is a chilling expose of the extreme feminism and maternal neglect of famed Color Purple author Alice Walker. The piece was based on an interview with daughter Rebecca Walker who recounted some sordid details regarding her mother’s behavior and the impact that it had on her growing up. But apparently, the interviewer took some liberties in truth telling that turned the piece into tabloid sensationalism. The Grio posted this interview where Walker clarifies that she never meant it in the way it was presented. I especially found this section of the interview compelling:
When piece went viral, it was hard. I had not said a lot of what was in the article, a lot of it didn’t come from the interview, but they put my name on it as if I had written it and added their own energy to it. It was very complex. All of my work is revealing; my books, but it’s different because I can control the way the message goes out. It’s a question of how to handle being so vulnerable and truthful about your experiences without having to wake up the next morning and hide under the covers. It’s hard to find that boundary. How much is necessary to divulge. When I first handed in Black White and Jewish, there was whole first section that read, “I’m writing this book because I want to be known. I want someone in this life to know what I feel and who I am.” I ended up cutting that section [laughing] but I think that a lot of my work thus far has been about wanting to be known, wanting to connect, wanting to be seen, not wanting to hold up a veil, wanting to be real, wanting to share — needing to. If I hadn’t written Black White and Jewish, I would have lost my mind. I had to say those things. I had to say I was having sex way too young and I had an abortion, and that I had my race issues; all that. I needed to get it out of me.
Well, here’s the interesting aspect of the whole thing. These events really happened and they absolutely had an impact on her. But you can hear the struggle in her words of wanting to write out of experiences but at the same time not coming across as an injured or malicious person. Experience is fuel to a writer that gives the words life and meaning. But writing out of experience also means sharing it. That’s hard when the experience isn’t pretty. So it causes this tenacious dilemma.
It’s even harder from a Christian perspective. Ms Walker is not a Christian but I am. And the one thing I’ve discovered about the Christian life, and especially in the mainstream evangelical culture that I’ve spent most of my Christian existence, is the expectation of victorious triumphalism that spurns any negative aspect of past or present experiences. Well that’s a general sweep and will vary depending on the circles. But I’ve seen time and time again, the recounting of painful life experiences rebuffed as weak and lacking true spirituality and dismissed with that tired cliche “just let it go”.
I’ve had the privilege of blogging over at Parchment and Pen theology blog for the past four years. Michael Patton, owner of the blog, primarily writes intensive theological posts. But in his more personal posts, he often writes openly about some of his struggles . It has inspired me to do the same. The reason is simple: I’m not the only one. So if by recounting my stuff and struggles it helps people somehow, then I want to write about it. I want to write about the conflict that enduring this presents in growing in maturity in Christ. I want to write about how it even bothers me that I have struggle X or Y. I want to use my experiences as anecdotal evidence to address a larger issue. I want to write about possible solutions sourced in gospel centered, scripture laced thinking that meets my humanity where I am, in all its conflicted glory.
This is life and life is messy. Sanctification is messy as humans we fail and fall and stumble over ourselves, some more than others. But at the same time, we want quick and easy solutions, shiny Christian examples and hidden life experiences. We read the apostle Paul’s words and think there must be something wrong with us if we don’t quickly measure up. But honestly, do you see the people and situations he is addressing?
I would love more than anything for us to dispel the notion that talking about stuff that’s happened to us or current struggles suggests weak Christianity or a sorry sanctification process. Moreover, I would love for us to appreciate the goal of authentic writing that strives to lift people up by meeting them where they are. That doesn’t mean the writer isn’t growing in Christ or isn’t strong in the Lord. Often it actually means they are because he is our strength. I’m actually suspicious of Christians who always seem up like nothing touches them. That’s not me or life. We all go through times low times, valleys and hurtful experiences on various levels. For all my quest in Christian maturity, I sometimes stumble over myself. I remember. I hurt. I cry. I get angry. Hiding that from my writing only presents a disingenuous facade.
So when I take the pen to paper (or more appropriately hands to the computer keys), I might want to write about that to help others. And it helps to know we are not alone in our struggles, that the messiness of life hasn’t swallowed only us up. The adversary sure would like us to believe that we are the only one, so that we project a puffy cloud presentation even when there’s rain and storm clouds underneath. Sure there is sun but sometimes rain. And just as Ms Walker concludes in that section of the interview, sometimes you just gotta get it out of your system. So you write.
There will always be critics, but most of us can relate to honesty about personal life struggles. This is what makes you accessible to the rest of us who haven’t attended seminary. Thanks for being yourself!