I began this little writing assignment in January 2018, having always considered myself somewhat a writer. Decidedly that! I had written more papers than I could count for grad school and published two books on top of that, so I must be a writer. But of all the things I’ve done in ministry, writing has always been the one that required the most self-discipline. As another author has said, “I hate to write. But I love having written.”
It was that love/hate relationship that caused me to implement the forced discipline of the essay edition for the podcast. No one requested me to do it. No one made me do it. In fact, I’m not sure anyone even wanted me to do it. But I decided that if I were going to maintain what few writing skills I had, and improve upon them where I could, I was going to have to attack the essay every month, whether I wanted to or not, or rather anyone cared or not.
So every month I have written something. Sometimes it is a thought that I jotted down during the month, and wrestled with, and then deposited onto the page whatever I had come up with. Other times it was a researched thought, with statistics, facts, quotes, and illustrations, like an article of sorts. And, as is expected, sometimes it is a lengthy dissertation on a Scripture or a theological idea. The essay allows me to expand in ways I may not in a podcast, or to stay focused in a way I may not in a sermon, or to add things I may not say to just anyone, but I trust the podcast audience has come a ways with me, and they have stuck around for a reason.
I share this information as a way of showing how the sausage is made; a little peak behind the curtain of this quasi-authorial performance. Perhaps others have embarked on their own journey of cataloging their thoughts, and might enjoy my musings on the topic. I also share this because this month, for the first time in 38 months of the essay edition, I have nothing to say. Or perhaps, I have too much to say, and not enough space –or time– to say it all. I figured perhaps the best thing to do in this case, is to work it out with you, the listener.
In an interesting twist, I am easily busier in active ministry than I have ever been in my life. The twist is found in that I am not the pastor of a local church, and the pandemic has rendered travel nearly non-existent. And yet, I find myself creating more than ever before. Maybe time has met opportunity for me. Between the daily podcast, which I take serious enough to never record unless I have something to say, and the weekly bible study with our little group in North Georgia, there is plenty to prepare for, study out, and then record and edit. On top of this, I also prepare, shoot, and edit a video series for our other monthly group in South Carolina, and then, due to limited travel, prepare, shoot, and edit a sermon for the weekend to post for the world. This basically means 7 short audio lessons, one short video lesson, one full-length sermon and one full-length, classroom style teaching, every week. Add Zoom call sermons, emails, letters, orders, and requests for face to face encounters, and the little two-man (or Paul and NaTasha White if you want to be specific) office group of Paul White Ministries has all it needs. And then, once a month, here comes the essay edition.
Maybe that is why I finally hit a month with nothing to write. But as I said before, the problem might actually be the opposite. As I sit to write I realize that I still have a lot of things to say, but I doubt my ability to say them well, and that has become my new stumbling block. Twain once said, “My books are water; those of the great geniuses is wine. Everybody drinks water.” I would expect nothing less than a self-effacing comment from such a wordsmith as Twain, but I’ll borrow his analogy. If the geniuses are wine, and Twain is water, then I’m little more than a cup of warm spit, but comparison does little good. I’ve always tried to just give what I have; sometimes water, sometimes wine, sometimes neither. In any case, it’s always honest, and an effort, or at least an honest effort.
I’ve given you dissertations on the church; it’s state and standing. I’ve written on social topics like abortion, and wrestled out my stance while trying my best to be true to both sides of the argument. I’ve reached into history to try and make sense of the present, using stories of days gone by in an attempt to ease our own fears of tomorrow. I’ve done mini-series, and question and answer, and rambling musings.
There are some things I’d like to write, but I don’t know if I am ready, or if I am qualified, or in the event I happen to be both, if I’m the right man for the job. So rather than dedicate an entire essay to these thoughts, I’ll give them a paragraph apiece. That way, if I’m none of the above things, its only a single paragraph that needs be ignored.
I’d like to write about the rising proliferation of conspiracy theories embraced by about half the American church. That statistic is pretty close to accurate by the way. There is much to be said to a church that is increasingly nationalistic, where Sunday morning services have become right-wing rallies for policy and candidates, under the guise of defending the right and the good. Where sermons, that should focus on the finished work of Christ and the love of the Father, become miniature policy speeches, and tacit endorsements for candidates and party. This idolization demands blind loyalty, and when a house is divided it cannot stand. I’d like to write about it, but I know I’m a minister of good news in an hour where good news is often truncated by bad news, and the listener deems what they disagree with as “fake news” anyhow.
I’d like to write about the disturbing trend of the liberal left, not so much toward socialism or communism, but to being “woke,” and to social justice warriors, and to cancel culture. Polarization at a political level is one thing, but polarization at a social level is another. One, we can overcome at the ballot box. The other, we can only overcome with patience and resolve in a way not often found in those who have been sheltered and kept from harm. When we are told what we cannot say, we can rally behind our freedom of speech, but when we are told what we must say, then we have entered the world of compulsory speech, where free ideas go to die, and individual thinking is both shunned and deplored. I’d like to write about it, but I know I’m called to embrace those that demand I speak differently, or cancel someone who refuses to, and I want to be a unifier, not a divider.
I’d like to write about the shameful practice of pseudo-prophecy that fills our airwaves and social media streams. These proclamations of judgment, and chaos, focused on sin, and politics, and whatever else sells at the moment, are nothing new, but they capitalize on whatever IS new in the moment, and do as James said, “lead captive silly women.” I don’t think James was picking on women, but on those who prey on people who will listen. I’d like to say more, but to do so would require that I watch a few of these prophecies and dig deeper into what they are doing, and frankly, I don’t have the stomach for it.
I’d honestly like to write about baseball, but I know you didn’t come here for that, so I will refrain. Besides, much of what I would say would just have to do with talking about my son and his season, and while it might interest you, its not the kind of material the essay edition was made for, so I refrain.
So in conclusion, finding the kind of material the essay edition is made for is precisely what I will focus on in the future. I do plan on moving outside the box a bit, writing some essays that focus less on the church and her place in this changing world. I feel that you know my feelings there, and that eventually I’m simply preaching to the choir. I pledge to look deeper into the kinds of things that make the podcast of the same name so enjoyable to so many. We may do a series of articles on certain theological studies, and let those essays inform the podcast, and vica versa.
So here’s to the future, and the endless possibilities that it holds. I don’t know what each month will bring, but I pledge to bring something to each month, and to stay true to the call: the call to go deeper.
Grace to you.