Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pure Originality

One thing I think about a lot is the issue of originality. Even though there’s never anything new under the sun (thank you Solomon!), there's still this expectation for original thought, creativity, and work. A bit of a paradox, perhaps.

Since being in college, I've not only learned to read large amounts of written material speedily-- I’ve also developed this voracious desire to read the same way on my own free time. In other words, after finishing my most challenging semester yet with three book-heavy lit classes and 19 units, I’ve spent much of my Christmas break… reading. Yes, I too find it odd and sometimes metaphorically slap myself for using my eyes instead of engaging in other activities. But, keeping it real, wintertime doesn’t afford a lot of other opportunities. Rain and snow aren’t ideal elements to walk in, even though the bike has reared its head from the shed half a dozen times. So I read. And read. Non-fiction is most easily devoured, so I find myself speed-reading blogs, articles, books, online community discussion boards, and even one author’s recent Oxford essay. Just a little light reading, right? As an English major, I’m thankful that it has finally become easier to skim material for important nuggets and, in general, consume the written word with less effort than I first thought possible. This isn’t necessarily a good thing since, as with any passion or hobby, it can become an all-consuming pastime. I’ve considered not only how much time I’m spending reading and the content of what I’m reading, but also the value in the ideas I’m absorbing and, finally, the balance of consuming vs. creating. I’m all about gaining knowledge in order to better understand a wide range of philosophies. Broadening my perspective has been one of the most valuable things about my university experience. But I can’t help thinking that, as with all things, there comes a point…

Now I’m going to say something really shocking: I’m getting weary of C. S. Lewis.       

It's two-fold. 1) Ever since it became en vogue to quote him extensively within Christianity (an explosion since the age of social media), I can’t help thinking we treat him a little like God—or at least the Apostle Paul. Now, there’s good reason for this. He’s a literary and apologetic genius and has contributed much to the faith. He’s probably even more articulate and poetic than Paul, but… he’s not the same person. What I’m saying is Lewis’ words shouldn’t be revered as much as Scripture (though we could easily segue here into discussing why the biblical canon should or should not be closed). He experienced spiritual conversion, yes. But he didn’t have the revelation Paul had, and he definitely didn’t die for the sins of the world. In fact, he believed and proposed some things that would surprise much of evangelical Christianity. So, let’s just ease up on quoting him if we can. Now and then is fine; but backing up every single argument with a Lewis analogy… I just feel it lacks creativity and doesn’t produce the same authority as Scripture. 2) Because I do admire C. S. Lewis greatly, I find it easy to hunt down every word he penned and eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Possibly even dessert. Trust me, the temptation to glean insight from this man’s brain through some kind of literary osmosis is a difficult one. But after an entire course on Lewis in 2012 and “just-for-fun” readings of his novels since AND commentaries on his novels by other scholars, I’ve grown tired. It’s nearly idolatry, which is why I’ve decided to ease up. After all, he is human, and he had sinful shortcomings like the next guy, and he had a terrible radio voice. To quote my brother: QED.

Now to the heart of all this. Originality.

After all this reading and internalizing ideas, I came to the conclusion that I want to create and contribute as much as I consume. More if possible. But I know there’s a balance. We should be learning our entire lives, and much of that will come from reading. The internet offers us more good resources than we will ever be able to take advantage of. And that’s my point. There comes a time when I want to place the book down, exit the forum, and live my life. The only way someone can be original is if they absorb knowledge and then run with it. Uniquely. As a creative writing student, if I’ve heard one thing, it’s that the only way to become a good writer is— to write. You can spend your entire life reading self-help books on techniques and tried-and-true advice, but until you actually sit your rear down to write, you’ll never grow proficient. The same goes with anything. I don’t want to be known as just a Lewis scholar, or an expert on Dallas Willard, or any great impersonator of someone I admire. I want to be Bailey Gillespie (insert your name here), influenced and molded and shaped by this or that person, but ultimately just Bailey Gillespie. My burning desire is to know the Christ's truth (not only the ultimate truth of the gospel but the little every day truths that require discernment) directly from Him. And that’s what can be equally as frustrating; because, although I would rather run straight to my Father and have his audible voice downloaded to me, God tends to use people to communicate his truths. He used the authors of the Bible, after all. But I want to be searching for his heart on all things instead of the quick go-to of a particular author—even one I greatly respect. 

One issue I have with writing is its detachment from the flesh and blood of the bodies around me. Even the best writing in the world, the kind that uses images and concrete descriptive language to pierce your soul, is not the same as having a face-to-face conversation with someone precious. I love that... and hate it. So often when I write, I feel lost in the void because everyone now has a voice on every topic. When it comes down to it, the only purely original thing I can offer is myself. More and more of late, I have had this odd desire to simply meet with people— talk with them, hear their stories, cook with them, laugh with them, play music together, pray, go on walks. Maybe it's just "senioritus," but maybe it's more. Those are the times I feel most unique since the context we find ourselves in is by its very nature unique, based on who we’re talking to and where and when and why. The online archives of information will grow and grow until they're antiquated and supplanted by new material, just like a lovely musty library. They'll always be around. But the fleeting moment of conversation between two uniquely-designed human beings—that will never come again. This is why it’s so important to me. In that moment of truth, I may have been fashioned by the philosophy of C. S. Lewis or Dallas Willard or Elisabeth Eliot (or Mark Moore!), but who I am in that moment determines what I truly believe, what I am truly made of.

So, let’s keep learning, friends. Let’s keep hunting for truth and seeking understanding. Let’s be inspired by authors and artists and pastors and entrepreneurs. But let’s not let our own voices drown. Let’s not forget to make the time to talk with our own friends and family… and Jesus. This is our only chance to create a legacy and to invest in something vital that transcends this life into eternity: relationships. Okay, I’m off to eat and most likely read some more tonight (but hey, I created a blog post, right?). However, I no longer want to compare myself with Oxford professors and then beat myself up for not being as smart. I’m going to be content with my own identity and make what I can with it. I’m going to live out life myself and see if I can find out whether what I’ve learned is actually true. How about you?     

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