Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Amy Winehouse: Let Her Sing Her Song

by L.S. Schaeffer

From Amy Winehouse's Stronger Than Me:

“You should be stronger than me -- you been here 7 years longer than me... don't you know you supposed to be the man... why do you always put me in control? All I need is for my man to live up to his role.”

So sang Amy Winehouse in clumsy, evocative poetry. This, her, in a sassy and demanding, but vulnerable, voice. This, her, a very 21st century girl, and not much of a traditionalist, singing about the failure of men to "live up to (their) role." This, her, back before she was a supernova Grammy starlet, just before she was a real big world-wide star, and long before she stumbled around, forgot lyrics, and was booed off stage. In recent public memory, she's known most for being booed of stage, and dying too young. Yet, I'm not thinking about any of that right now. I'm too busy remembering the way she lamented, "You should be stronger than me..." This is what I most remember about Amy Winehouse: what she sang, and the way she sang.

She might have been booed off stage at her last big performance, but she won’t be booed off the world stage. No. She’ll always turn up on juke boxes. Her music will appear now and then in Rolling Stone’s great-whatever catalogues. She will be on everyone’s iPod 20 years from now. Actually, given the current trends in technology, they won’t be making iPods in 20 years.  But they’ll still be making Winehouse’s CD’s. Scratch that. They won’t be making CD’s in 5 years. Regardless, in whatever medium music is delivered, Winehouse’s music will be there. She’ll keep selling records, and she’ll keep singing. And, we’ll keep listening.

She is one more in a line of legends who stumbled drunk or high through greatness: Hank, Hank Jr. (truly, “a family tradition”), Hendrix, Joplin, Waylon Jennings, Morrison, Cobain, and that fictional character from Crazy (Bad Blake receives honorable mention as the archetype of the drunk genius). These legends had two things in common: talent, and self-destructive addiction. They have one more thing in common, too: legions of admiring, often disappointed, fans. Like Winehouse, they drove fans crazy with uneven lifestyles, and more uneven performances. Like Winehouse, they were late for shows, and often no shows, which just goes to show: there’s nothing is new under the sun. Winehouse isn’t the first musician to show up high for a concert. She’s not the first to cancel a tour. She’s not the first to alienate fans by trashing her gifts. If anything, she stands last in a long line.

Yet, even when Hank et al. didn’t show, the fans did. The fans were always there, waiting patiently. These drunken geniuses had an inconstancy only matched by the constancy of their fans. They kept their fan base despite the no shows, despite lack of production, and despite spite. They “couldn’t make it,” but the fans always could. The fans were there, always there: waiting, hoping, and wishing for another album, or another stunning performance. And the fans were there for Whinehouse, too.

The last 4 years have been grueling for Winehouse fans. She kept them on edge in anticipation of – maybe, just maybe – a return to form. Maybe, just maybe, another record. Sure, some of these same fans booed her off stage. Other fans trashed her for wasting her talent. Yet, I’d be willing to wager that the fans who booed her off stage still listened to her music. They probably listened to it in the car on the way home, just after booing her in person. Their probably listening to it right now, and relishing the fact that they got to see her, actually see her, in concert. Again, nothing new:

Hank Williams was the king of country soul
My dad took me to see him in Lubbock, but he didn't show.
Now the people got mad and they all went home.
The first thing we did was put his records on.
I guess we should have left him alone and let him sing his song.

"Why?" You ask. Why do the fans keep showing up even when the performers don’t? No doubt, there is some element of devotion. No doubt, some people show up just to see the fireworks. Yet, none of this explains the real reason why – why fans remained till the end, and why they will remain past the end. The real reason is simple: talent. Whinehouse, Hank, Cobain et. al. possessed God-given talent. To see them at their best was to witness a breathtaking thing of beauty, and a work of art. To see them at their second best was still mesmerizing. To see them at their worst just reminded you of that one time you saw them at their best.

Such individuals, though personally devastated, still produce masterpieces. This is another way of stating something we learn in Genesis 2-4. Man is made in God’s image, and entrusted with divine gifts. God, in an almost reckless way, has showered humanity with dignity, gifts, and responsibility. He’s like the doting father who just can’t help but give another gift, and then another, at his kid's birthday party. Yet, sin has crashed this party, and vandalized these gifts. Sin has wrecked humanity and marred, but not destroyed, God's image, or God's gifts. So, at present, we live in a world where depravity and divine gifts stand side by side, often in the same person. Rather, always in the same person.

It is hard to keep both these truths -- divine gifts and human depravity – in view at the same time, in the same person. Orwell at least tried when he said, "One ought to be able to hold in one's head simultaneously the two facts that DalĂ­ is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being.”

Dennis Lehane’s character Chuck in Shutter Island tried to come to grips with the coexistence of gifts and depravity when he first meets a woman broken gifted with bracing beauty, but devastated by insanity: 

Cawley (said), “Are you reacting to her apparent beauty, or her apparent madness?”
“Both,” Chuck said.

“Both” – both a surfeit of gifts, and a sewer of depravity. Looking at either in isolation is stunning. The gifts of some are so great that man is tempted to worship other men, as gods. The evil of man is so frightening that man is tempted to flee all men, as demons.

 Looking at either is stunning; looking at both, together, in the same creature, or creatures, makes your head spin.

“Both.” Both remarkable gifts, and heartbreaking depravity. This sums up the human condition. Just look at Cain; he had atrocious personal ethics – we usually only remember him as the original murderer – but he was also the original architect, and the first denizen city-zen (Genesis 4.17). If you asked anyone, "Who was the first man to found a city?" -- Cain doesn't come to mind. Yet, this man, he with a brother's blood on his hands, apparently had dreams in his head of bringing men together in community. Huh?

It is a testimony to the abiding image of God that, no matter how destitute an individual becomes, their gifts still shine through. In depravity, dignity remains. Mozart was no church pianist, ethically speaking, and yet he is the church pianist, technically speaking. Mozart, like Winehouse, and like Waylon, was known to get out of his mind. Then, a minute later, produce a work of art out of this world.

Oh, Waylon has been known to play half time
He been known to get out of his mind
Don't know whether he's right or wrong
He's got a string of hits about two miles long
Why don't you leave that boy alone, let him sing his song?

Yeah, Winehouse got out of her mind. We all remember that. We should also remember that she’s got a string of hits about two miles long, and a string of Grammys about two feet long. Much of the attention paid to her of late has highlighted her decline. Let’s not forget the height from which she declined. Let's not forget that she was abnormally, divinely, gifted. Russell Brand described her vocal gifts life this:

I arrived late and as I made my way to the audience through the plastic smiles and plastic cups I heard the rolling, wondrous resonance of a female vocal. Entering the space I saw Amy on stage with Weller and his band; and then the awe. The awe that envelops when witnessing a genius. From her oddly dainty presence that voice, a voice that seemed not to come from her but from somewhere beyond even Billie [Holiday] and Ella [Fitzgerald], from the font of all greatness. A voice that was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened...

Well, then, her gifts are undeniable. But how do her gifts relate to her struggle with addiction? Some will say that great creativity is fueled by destructive behavior. Thus, they imply, the deaths of Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Hank, and Whinehouse are a fait accompli. No way around it. It was the price of greatness. Such a line of argument even glorifies the destructive lifestyles of these talented individuals. As if, dying young of a drug overdose is your best life now.

I’d argue the opposite. Destruction is not the backdrop to great creativity. Rather, great creativity is the back drop to destruction. Whinehouse was a gift despite her self-destruction. That shows how great her gifts were. The fact that her gifts shined through is a testimony, not to her destruction, but to her gifts. Had her gifts been less, we’d never have known about her self-destruction. Her self-destruction being what it was, it is a miracle that we know about her gifts. This is grace. Uncommon grace.

I imagine someone will point out the song Rehab as a foil to this argument. Didn’t Winehouse become a sensation because she refused to go to rehab? 

They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, "No. No. No."
Yes, I've been black, but when I come back you'll know, know, know.
I ain't got the time, and if my daddy thinks I'm fine –
He's tried to make me go to rehab, I won't go, go, go.

Doesn’t this show that her greatness came because of self-destruction? No. No. No.

If you listen to Rehab closely, you’ll hear a childish girl refusing to do what she is told to do, yes. You’ll hear a petulant girl who thinks she knows it all, yes. Then, if you keep listening, you will hear a young woman struggling to come to grips with the pain of a broken relationship:

The man said, “Why do you think you’re here?”
I said, “I got no idea.
I’m gonna, I’m gonna lose my baby.
So I always keep a bottle near.”

Her drunkenness was a salve for her pain – it was a pain killer. That’s the real point of this song, and that’s the real point of Whinehouse’s troubled career. She felt deeply, and sang authentically, about human pain. I’d even argue that the more she false medicated that pain, the more she diminished. The pain made her great. The pain colored her voice in deeper tones. If you want to test this theory, read the comments about her on YouTube. You’ll find lots of comments to the effect, “I was going through a hard time, and I listened to her music.”

As Catrinia Molitor recently noted, "Her pain combined with God-given talent brought about her genius, poignant, soulful music... Do you think God blessed her with pain? I bet! And (He) worked through her to bring comfort to others!"

Now, when you combine pain and artistic genius, you get Hank, Cobain, and Winehouse, et al. If you add drugs and drunkenness to that equation, you don’t get more genius. You get something else, something too sad to speak about just now.

You’ll be reading lots of pieces like this one about Amy Whinehouse’s troubled end. You'll also read lots of pieces prodding mercilessly into her failings. I’d rather not speak of her troubled life. I'd rather leave that alone, and let her sing her song. I’d rather speak of her voice, her lyrics, and her gifts.

We should speak about the gift of Amy Winehouse. We should speak of how the gifts of God remain, by grace, in a world racked with sin and destruction. We should give thanks that God has given some of us lovely voices, artistic genius, and a way with words. We should give thanks, and sing. We should, when we think of Amy Whinehouse, remember her voice, and her lyrics. We should let her sing her song.

Why don't you leave that girl alone let 'er sing her song
You know she’s gonna do whatever she wants.
If you don't like the way she sings – who's gonna cast the first stone?
Why don't you leave that girl alone, let 'er sing her song?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mixed Cliches

by L.S.S

This is originally from "How To Be A Real Bad Boss," with a few added.

"An bun in the oven is worth two in the bush."

"You gotta break some eggs before you count your chickens before they hatch."

"Life is like a box of chocolates -- so think outside the box."

"Love is blind -- so love yourself."

"An open mind is a parachute -- so, open up, and say ahh."

"If you can't stand the heat -- stand for something. Or, you'll fall for anything."

"Talk is cheap to the hand."

"Home is where the cows come home."

"An apple a day never falls far from the tree."

"Don't beat a horse around the bush."

"Beauty is in the eye of the tiger."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Grammar and Money

by CWK

We all know spelling and grammar are important, but we may not realize how important:

Spelling mistakes can cut significantly into online sales: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14130854

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New Word: Flourishment

posted by CK

Flourishment: (Noun): the state of flourishing, and/or achieving one's potential.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Under the Influence

by CWK

"Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal." -- T.S. Eliot

Here's a paraphrase from Tim Keller, "If you read only a few authors, you'll mimic their voices. If you read a thousand authors, you'll develop your own voice, and speak with originality."

We are all under the influence. We are all prisoner's of the past. We can't help but be influenced. The question is -- are we reading and thinking enough so that we develop our own voice? Are we, as writers and speakers, using our own God-given voice?

I started reading C.S. Lewis when I was in college. Then, for the next 3 years, I copied his writing style. Not intentionally. I just loved the way he wrote. I wanted to perpetuate his voice in my own work. I did the same thing in public speaking. My campus minister was a captivating speaker. He spoke with his arms latched behind his back. Guess what I did the first few times I spoke in public? Yep. I latched my arms behind my back. We can't help imitating those we respect. I have friends who preach just like their pastor -- even down to the voice intonations.

So, we are all under the influence. This doesn't mean that we have no responsibility in developing our own voice. How might we work toward this?

1) Read Wisely... i.e., the good stuff.

If we are going to be influenced -- if this is inevitable -- then we ought to choose our mentors wisely. "He who walks with the wise grows wise... " Who are we reading? Why? What influence are they having on us?

2) Read to "weigh and consider (Bacon)."

Think through what you read. Digest the nurturing elements; spit out the bones.

3) Read widely.

The more we read, the more chance we have to be influenced by a number of different authors. We should read more than one genre (Poems; Plays; Novels; Short Stories; History; Fiction). We should read more than one style (Serious; Comic; Ironic; Thoughtful; Popular). As a general rule, the more widely we read, the more chance we have to emerge with something unique -- something our own.

And this, from Spurgeon, on individuality:

Yet, for all that, our subject is individuality, and we hope that each man will recognize and honorably maintain his personality. The proper recognition of the EGO is a theme worthy of our attention. I will make a word if I may: let egotismstand for proud, vainglorious, intrusive selfhood, and let egoism stand for the humble, responsible, and honest selfhood which, finding itself in being, resolves to be at the Divine bidding, and to be at its best, to the glory of God... Be yourself, dear brother, for, if you are not yourself, you cannot be anybody else; and so, you see, you must be nobody. The very worst notes in music are those which are untrue; each true sound has its own music. In my aviary are many birds, and they sing very sweetly; but there are among them three grass paroquets, which do not sing, but imitate the other birds, and very effectually spoil the concert. Their imitation seems to drown the natural music of the rest. Do not be a mere copyist, a borrower and spoiler of other men's notes.

- From Individuality and It's Opposite.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Koholet's Law

by CWK

Valiant men lie plundered –
they sleep their last sleep.
Fools all gaze in wonder;
children wail and weep,
and I am left to ponder
the deep that calls to deep.

A valiant man, better than I,
I have lain in early grave –
whilst a mocker laughed, then lied,
gained in vigor 'fore he died,
and lived to marry babes.

I’ve seen the rich grow poor
in soul -- yet. rich in lands.
I’ve seen the poor, empty hands,
holding right when none else stands
(yet naked at the rich man’s door,
and begging crumbs upon his floor).
This I saw, and more;
I've seen it all, and I've seen it all, before.

Many die that deserve to live;
others live who should have died.
Many take who'd rather give;
others give, but find their gifts denied.

Many miscarry that deserve to bear;
whilst children are borne, uncared.
Some sire who are father's not;
some father yet in childless lot.

Many fail by reason of mistakes,
who otherwise were great.
Others rise on fits and breaks
who should have fallen in the wake.

All this I saw; I've seen it all.
I saw the strong, saw them fall.
I saw the weak; I saw the wise.
I saw the dead, undead, arise.
I saw it with my own two eyes --
I chased the truth past measure;
I chased the answers to the brink
of reason, love, and pleasure.
And this I say to those who think --
to those who wisdom treasure:

the world is not insane; the stars 
stay in their places. But God is far
above my mind; in mystery he walks.
And the mouth of man is full of talk,
but the heart of man is full of dark,
and corrupted deep with treason.
And a man should consider the end.
And for every thing there is a season;
And the mind of man cannot ascend
to grasp all Heaven's reason.

I chased the answers to the brink
of reason, love, and pleasure.
And this I say to those who think --
to those who wisdom treasure:

I find it hard to stand
on suppositions shifting, like the sand; 
but, this I know; I know this:
Fear God, and keep his commands.
This is the end of the matter;
the sure good that lies in within our hand;
this I know; I know this:
Fear God, and keep his commands.  
I am a fool, and can't even understand
this wisdom of man;
but, this I know; I know this:
Fear God, can keep his commands.    

Friday, July 08, 2011

Ain't nothing changed but the year it is

by CWK

... if you need a reminder, here it is.

From Elements of Style:

Do not affect a breezy manner.

The volume of writing is enormous, these days, and much of it has a sort of windiness about it, almost as though the author were in a state of euphoria. "Spontaneous me," sang Whitman, and, in his innocence, let loose the hordes of uninspired scribblers who would one day confuse spontaneity with genius. 
The breezy style is often the work of an egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that comes to mind is of general interest and that uninhibited prose creates high spirits and carries the day. Open any alumni magazine, turn to the class notes, and you are quite likely to encounter old Spontaneous Me at work-- an aging collegian who writes something like this:

'Well, guys, here I am again dishing the dirt about your disorderly classmates, after passing a weekend ing the Big Apple trying to catch the Columbia hoops tilt and then a cab-ride from hell through the West Side casbah. And speaking of news, howzabout tossing a few 
primo items this way?'


We should always aim for EFFECT (to create a lasting impact) in writing and speaking, but never for AFFECT (striking a phony pose). AFFECT is taking on a false persona: pretending to be something you are not. In the above selection, Strunk and White are warning of us of tying to AFFECT a breezy style: pretending, for the sake of cool points, to be detached and carefree. For my money, a breezy style has a place -- but not as an AFFECT -- not as a put on, or gimmick.

Yet, the heart in the matter is the heart of the matter. The problem with an affected breezy style? Often, it flows from a heart that is more concerned about serving self than serving the reader or listener. The real problem is not the style, but the heart of the style. The real problem is vanity. This problem has to do with the:

"... egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that comes to mind is of general interest and that uninhibited prose creates high spirits and carries the day."

Affectation of all kinds usually involves image -- I want people to perceive me in a certain way: cool, a good writer, smart, or funny. Writing like the example above is certainly egocentric: written, ultimately, for pride. It's not written out of love. It is not written to communicate. It is not written for fun. It is not written for joy, or pain, or love, or to waste time, or any of the other noble motives. "Affected" writing is written for pride. I can think of about 1000 other better reasons to write.

A lot of things change: writing style, pop culture, standards of cool, but the human heart never changes, and the human heart always gravitates toward pride and egocentrism. We are all tempted to write for silly pride,  to stoke a sinful self esteem, and find our glory in vain glory. Elements of Style was written in 1918. Then, a check was needed against egocentric writing. Well, ain't nothing change but the year it is; if you need a reminder, here it is:

"...the same wind blows, at lesser velocities, across vast expanses of journalistic prose. The author in this case has managed in two sentences to commit most of the unpardonable sins: he obviously has nothing to say, he is showing off and directing the attention of the reader to himself, he is using slang with neither provocation nor ingenuity, he adopts a patronizing air by throwing in the word primo, he is humorless (though full of fun), dull, and empty. He has not done his work (From Elements of Style, "Do Not Affect A Breezy Manner)."

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Is This All There Is -- A Poem By Francis Schaeffer

posted by CK

To eat, to breathe
to beget
Is this all there is
Chance configuration of atom against atom
of god against god
I cannot believe it.
Come, Christian Triune God who lives,
Here am I
Shake the world again.

From: Francis Schaeffer, No Little People, in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Volume 3 (Crossway: Wheaton Illinois, 1982): 4.

Francis Schaeffer on Reading

posted by CK

"Americans don’t read enough (that’s true), and Americans read too much (that’s true too). What I mean is that Americans don’t read enough material to really be informed, and yet the read too much because what they do read they often do not stop to assimilate and think through. I urge you, in such a day as ours, to really truly learn to read!” 

-- From Back to Freedom and Dignity, pg 364 of The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer.

What is Unction?

by CWK

I have heard about “unction” for as long as I can remember, but have never really understood what it meant.

Spurgeon helped me begin to get a grasp of this term, “One bright benison which private prayer brings down upon the ministry is an indescribable and inimitable something, better understood than named; it is a dew from the Lord, a divine presence which you will recognize at once when it is “an unction from the holy one.””[1] He then goes on to describe the danger of trying to counterfeit this phenomenon, “It is as easy as it is foolish to counterfeit it.” 

We have all seen people who throw around phrases like “Sweet Jesus” in a sentimental and nauseating way. Spurgeon calls this indecent, if not profane. In doing this he warns me against one of the temptations I will surely face. I will be tempted to fake “unction.” There is, however, no substitute for true communion with Christ, and faking it is always seen for what it is, even by the least experienced believer.

[1] Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students, 46.

Spurgeon on The Call

by CWK

I have asked myself, and have often been asked, “How do I know I am called to ministry?” 

Charles Spurgeon helped me immensely, and confirmed the general ideas I had about what constitutes a call. He says, “The first sign of a call is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.”[1] Spurgeon refers to this desire as a “fire in the bones,” and a “consecrated glow.” I have reflected on this, and I would describe my compulsion to teach as a consecrated glow. I believe I will spend most of my ministry in some teaching role. I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life! When I teach, “I feel God’s pleasure.” Spurgeon states that aptness to teach is a requirement of any ministerial candidate. This does not mean we will be recognized as the next Cicero after our first sermon. We can only discern our aptness to teach after trial and error, and a concerted effort. The best way to gage our aptness will be the responses of the people we minister to. “Considerable weight is to be given to the judgment of men and women who live near to God, and in most instances their verdict will no be a mistaken one.”[2] Later he adds, “When we stand to preach, our spirit will be judged of the assembly, and if it be condemned, or if as a general rule, the church is not edified, the conclusion may not be disputed that we are not sent of God.”[3]

[1] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students, 32.
[2] Ibid, 32.
[3] Ibid, 34. 

Rethinking The Gift of Singleness

by CWK

Is it true that the single life enables one to be less distracted, and focus more attention on service and faith? This is the common interpretation of 1 Cor. 7. This interpretation is incorrect for 3 reasons. 1 Cor. 7 is written in special circumstances (persecution, 1 Cor. 7.26), and Paul makes clear that his advice on singleness applies to these circumstances only (1 Cor. 7.26), "in light of the present crises." Also, Paul's overall encouragement is toward marriage (1 Cor. 7.1-7), and not singleness. Finally, the gracious norm for men and women is marriage, "it is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2.18)," within the blessing of family, "God blessed them (Gen. 1.28)," as they fulfill the first great commission, "be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1.28)." In other words, Genesis 1-2 provides the overall interpretive paradigm for 1 Cor. 7, and not vice versa. 

Here are some interesting comments from John Calvin on this subject, “I would argue, on the contrary, that celibacy has its own disadvantages, and that these are considerable, and not all of one type. I am not speaking yet of the difficulty of sexual continence. I say that celibate men are distracted by no slighter and fewer distractions than married men; certainly the difference is so small that we might say that both are equally distracted...It is certain that many who are otherwise suited for the ministry cannot usefully do without marriage.”[1] 

Calvin argues that the married person is not less distracted. I have pondered this over the years, and I think Calvin has a point. Singleness has many distractions. For one thing, you do not have a helper in the Lord to bear the pressures of life. A partner can help with very practical things like making a home beautiful, and managing money. But there is also the emotional burden all of us carry, and it can be very distracting to bear our frustrations and griefs all by ourselves. Calvin ends this section with a warning, “I always fear that it is dangerous for celibacy to be honored extravagantly, for good men may be frightened away from marriage, even when their need of it is urgent.”[2]

[1] Calvin’s Ecclesiastical Advice, 115.
[2] Ibid, 115.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

C.S. Lewis and Process Theory

by CWK

Many of the attributes of process centered writing are prevalent in other writers from other ages. I will argue that C.S. Lewis is, in his own way, a proponent of process writing. I believe Lewis can be a faithful guide in how we implement process theory on a practical level.
            I would suggest C.S. Lewis as a mentor in this field because one of the hallmarks of Process-centered writing is, “It stresses the principle that writing teachers should be people who write.”[1] C.S. Lewis is thus imminently qualified. He was first and foremost a writer, publishing everything from science fiction to children’s stories. However, he never, to my knowledge, wrote as much as an article advising others how to write. This does not mean, however, that his thoughts on the subject are forever lost. He gave informal advice on writing from time to time in many places, most prominently in letters and interviews. In this advice we find a treasury of wisdom. His advice is acceptable for the process proponent because it comes from one who was a writer, and taught writing as an overflow of his own ‘lust’ for the written word (that is his term, not mine).[2] We may also find some insight into Lewis’ wisdom through some of his former students, to whom he taught writing.
            Process writing is “rhetorically based: audience, purpose, and occasion figure prominently in the assignment of writing tasks.” In order to achieve an understanding of our audience Lewis suggests that we become students of the audience:

“…we must not decide a priori what other people mean by English words any more than what Frenchmen mean by French words. We must be wholly empirical. We must listen and note and memorize. And of course we must set aside every trace of snobbery or pedantry about ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ usages. Now this is, I feel, very hum-drum and work-a-day. When one wants to discuss the problem of communication…it is chilling to be told that the first step is simply linguistic in the crudest sense.”[3]
            Lewis’ advice here may seem simple, but it is the necessary first step of communication: we must find out how our audience uses words. We must be students of those to whom we write if we wish to be understood.
            Lewis takes this issue of being audience centered to another level. He relates the development of a writer’s style to the audience in a striking way:

            “The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that. The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I something think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the readers will most certainlty go into it.”[4] Elsewhere Lewis phrases this advice differently, “Always try to use language so as to make quite clear what you mean, and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.”[5]

            Lewis argues that there is a connection between style and clarity, and what a breath of fresh air this is for the freshman comp student who is eager to develop her own style! One can become overwhelmed with the pressures of “being yourself as a writer.” I think the emphasis is all in the wrong place in such an approach. ‘Process’ rightly focuses on developing the student, on the becoming of the piece. However, what is it that the piece is becoming? Hopefully, it is becoming more clear. To impart this to a student simplifies the process of writing, while enabling ‘style’ to develop naturally. One of the problems of the traditional paradigm is that “it neglects invention almost entirely, and that it makes style the most important element in writing.”[6] If we focus instead on clarity we enable the student to express his ideas, withough neglecting the development of style.
            Process theory also emphasizes that writing is holistic. It views writings as an activity that involves the “intuitive and nonrational.”[7]

Lewis once commented:

 “I would not know how to advise a man how to write. It is a matter of talent and interest. I believe he must be strongly moved if he is to become a writer. Writing is like a ‘lust,’ or like ‘scratching when you itch.’Writing comes as a result of a very strong impulse, and when it comes, I for one must get it out.”[8]

            This is where we are most liable to fail students in the academy. We can teach them how to write but never inspire them to write. They will not write, and will not love writing, unless they have to write; an inner fire must drive them to write. How do we develop this “strong impulse,” this “lust” for writing? I don’t know, but I think the Process approach is right in drawing our attention to the heart (ie. the nonrational element) of the writer. Unless his or her heart beats fervently about something we will never see interest develop.
            Last of all, we look to the suggestion that writing as process means seeing writing as an act of learning: “writing is a way of learning and developing as well as a communication skill.”[9] Fundamentally, this means that writing is a way for us to think. Bacon once said, “writing maketh a man exact.” Writing forces you to be specific with your ideas, and to carry them out to what Lewis has called the “ruddy end.” I would suggest, however, that we must reconcieve the evaluating of writing if we are to implement this assertion that writing helps us think.
            Lewis provides an exemplar of how to use writing as a means to learn. One of Lewis’ students, George Bailey, has reflected on his interactions with Lewis as his tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford.[10] Lewis’ approach to teaching writing was no different than any other tutor at Oxford, but the approach is foreign to us:

“The Oxford and Cambridge tutorial system is based, as it were, on the direct confrontation of tutor and udnergraduate. The form of the system is simple: one essay a week on a set topic, which is read aloud bu the undergraduate to the tutor during an hour long tutorial. Ordinarily the reading of the essary takes up the first fifteen minutes of the hour. In the remaining time, the tutor attacks the essay’s argument or lack of one, and the undergraduate does his best to defend his work…the most important point about the tutorial system in general and Lewis’ use of it in particular is that ‘what you say’ is wither ‘well said’ or not. For the essay is always read aloud…The most important thing about having to write an essay aloud I sthat it forces the undergraduate to write for reading aloud. Because he himself has to do the reading aloud, he soon becomes aware that he must mke punctuational allowances for breathing pauses, which is perhaps the best way (because it is the most rudimentary way) to come to an understanding of sentence structure.”[11]

            Hairston objects that one of the basic problems with the traditional approach is that it assumes, “teaching editing is teaching writing.”[12] The Oxford system described above helps us to alleviate some of the burden of editing from the teacher. The student who has to read essays aloud will be forced to come to an understanding of sentence structure. If students were placed in a position where the clarity of their essay would be palpably clear (ie. reading it to their prof) then they would be forced to develop greater facility of expression. There are many other advantages to this approach to teaching writing, but the greatest is that it uses writing to teach students to think. I will explain.
            In this system the student views their writing not as a finished product, but as an attempt at an argument that must be defended. The final work is not the essay, but the defense of the ideas in the essay. In this way, writing is learning, and a vital part of developing the student’s ability to defend an argument. I am saying a very simple thing here. If a student had to meet with a Professor and defend the thesis of an essay they would be forced to think out their arguments, and have the advantage of a “devil’s advocate.” All I am really arguing for is more personal instruction: more interaction of Professor and student over ideas. I have a feeling that proponents of ‘Process’ theory would appreciate the way that Lewis teaches writing.
            I have argued in this essay that C.S. Lewis forms an admirable model for ‘Process theorists.’ His experience as a writer qualifies him, and his advice is practical and helpful as a way forward. It helps us answer the question: “How do we implement process-centered writing?” Furthermore, we can learn form Lewis’ context at Oxford. It may be the reason that  his advice is so relevant to a process approach; the tutorial system may indeed be the most helpful paradigm for the process approach.

[1] Maxine Hairston, “The Winds of Change: Thomas Kuhn and the Revolution in the Teaching of Writing,” College Composition and Communication, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Feb 1982): 86.
[2] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, ed. Walter Hooper  (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970): 271.
[3] Ibid, 255.
[4] Hooper, 264.
[5] C.S. Lewis, Letters of C.S. Lewis, ed. W.H. Lewis (NY: Geofrey Bles: 1966): 271.
[6] Hairston, 78.
[7] Ibid, 86.
[8] Hooper, 258.
[9] Hairston, 86.
[10] Ed. Carolyn Keefe, C.S. Lewis: Speaker and Teacher (USA, Zondervan: 1971): 106-122.
[11] Ibid, 107-109.
[12] Hairston, 78.

Grammar and Grace


            In a postmodern world, teachers don't mark papers for bad grammar. Once red papers are now white as snow. The sins against grammar remain, but the emphasis on grammar does not. Gone are the red pens (Who knows how many pen companies went out of business?). My question is, "How did we get here?" My answer is: legalism. My question is: how do we get back to a healthy appreciation of grammar? My answer is: grace.
           Grammatical exactness started to wane as postmodernism started to wax. The literary movement which embodied postmodern ideals is called "Process Theory." Grammar was was associated with the authoritarian teacher-centered classroom (i.e. modernism). Process theorists desired a move toward a student centered classroom in which all have a 'voice.' Grammar evoked visions of a bleach white classroom, students cowed in fear, while a severe professor drilled students in subject-verb agreement. Grammar came to be associated with drudgery, authority, and voiceless students. To this day, grammar is conceived of as boring and burdensome.
          An authoritarian structure is one of the first signs of legalism. In such a climate, authority resides with those who have power to make the rules. In Jesus’ day, such authority rested with the Scribes and Pharisees. They were looked to for spiritual leadership, but abused that authority by making “heavy burdens, hard to bear."
            Before postmodernism hit the literary halls of academia, legalism was a major problem. Consider the insistence on adherence to “grammatical minutiae.” Grammars abounded in obtuse terminology, and seemed always to breed newer, more esoteric, rules. These rules confused and suffocated students. All the while, an elite few paraded around and turned their noses up to anyone who could not achieve works of grammar supererogation. For much of the 20th century, a small group of sometime self-righteous grammarians decreed heavy burdens on a beleaguered student body. This was the sad state grammar found itself in before the rise of Process. And who can wonder that students and teachers rebelled? But, what was it they rebelled against? They rebelled against legalism. Legalism: this is the word that best describes a burdensome set of superfluous rules that is mandated in an authoritarian culture.
            Since the demise of grammar is related to legalism, the rise of grammar in the academy and the world can be precipitated by grace: grace alone. Legalism denotes authoritarianism, rules, and burdensome detail in an atmosphere devoid of love. Grace denotes freedom in an atmosphere permeated with acceptance and love. 
           What would a grammar of grace look like?
            A grammar of grace begins with the teacher. Grammar legalism flourishes in an authoritarian culture where merit is attained by works. In short, if a student has poor grammar, they are chided and treated with indignity. How many students have learned to hate grammar because they felt a teachers’s vehement disapproval over a misplaced comma? A classroom of grace functions on, first of all, absolute acceptance. Students need to know that the teacher is for them.  The teacher has their best interest in mind, and values them no matter how bad their grammar is. There is a personal element in the teaching of grammar. If a student feels devalued, he will respond in one of two ways. First, after repeated failure, he will despair, and give up. Second, he may try harder in order to gain approval. The student who achieves grammar works of supererogation will not be the better for it, though, because he will inevitably develop a sense of grammar self-righteousness. Legalism leads inevitably to despair or self-righteousness. On the contrary, if a student begins with the principle of acceptance the natural outcome will be humble security. No matter how slowly their grammar progresses they will not fear approaching the teacher. No matter how good their grammar is, they will not become proud.
            Lastly, a grammar of grace emphasizes freedom within the law. Legalism leads people to think laws are binding and cumbersome. Grace points out that the right laws actually provide freedom. In the case of grammar, following rules of grammar usually leads to better communication. The person who understands laws of grammar finds it easier to be articulate and clear. So, we should emphasize the positives of grammar in the writing classroom. “Do you want to be a better writer? Do you want to be a better communicator? Learn grammar! Grammar gives you freedom to say what you want to say, how you want to say it.” It is an ironic fact that the person who jettison’s law entirely eventually makes himself a slave. This is true in almost any arena, and in my experience it is doubly true in grammar. The path to writing freedom is the law of grammar. And, the path to seeing the freedom of law is grace: grace alone.