Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Working Out a Thought

I'm not sure how to say what I mean, but listen. People, in general, seem to be ashamed of their rough drafts and early work. Like, writers for instance—we get a little squeamish about putting our names on things we know aren't our best. We sometimes think to ourselves that we shouldn't write on a certain topic yet because we aren't yet good enough to do it justice and we don't want to waste our pet project with underdeveloped talent. Better wait until we are great, until we are established, until we can line up a series of masterworks, each pristinely crafted and perfect, our opus. We'd rather not have our rough drafts included in that collection because it shows that we at some point didn't know what we were doing.

We don't actually do that, but we think it, we feel that way. We feel tempted to use a pseudonym until we're awesome, or to hold on to early work and not publish until we're really ready, or to not want to show others our work until it is perfect. But life doesn't work that way: Wes Anderson's movies have grown in complexity, in beauty, and in depth; Paul Simon's early work with Garfunkel is almost embarrassing compared to his solo work; Neitchze forwarded ideas as a young man that he grew to completely oppose; Van Gogh's early paintings look more or less like everyone else's. And on and on.

In a related way, we all look back at our past selves with a degree of shame. We wonder, was I really that stupid, or that naive, or that ignorant? We wish our life wasn't such a series of failures and wait for the day when we will have become what we are to be—our final draft—when the days of looking back with a wince are no more.

Different note, same song: Sometimes I wonder about God letting us run the show down here. He seems to have left us in charge of moving the world forward to its conclusion, of doing his work, if you will, and we don't often make him look good. I mean, the things out of our power look real good—sunsets and oceans and stars and stuff—but the business of watching over the garden, of learning to live together peaceably, and of figuring out who we are and who he is and all that: we make more of a mess of it than progress. If God were to do it it would be done in one perfect draft, right? But instead he has signed his name on the top of the page1 and put the pen in our hands and is patiently waiting for...what? Are we ever going to get a suitable draft going?

Anyway, I think it's nice to know that God is okay letting us (and whoever else is watching) see the work in progress. He doesn't seem to mind letting the rough draft be seen. It makes me feel better about (1) my own writing and (2) my own life.

This idea kind of defeats time. It suggests that the point isn't to be perfect at every moment, but to progress, to become, until perfection is reached. So when God looks at the world, the work in progress, maybe he doesn't wince in shame and frustration; maybe he smiles at all the good editing that's happened recently. And at the end, when it has reached a state of perfection, he won't be embarrassed by all the scratch-outs and smudges and stuff that went into its creation.

In other words, maybe our lives are not papers running across time. Perhaps our births were not introductions followed by paragraphs for each year in our lives, each one hopefully with less typos and dangling modifiers and other grammatical sins than the last until the final paragraph stands as the only one free from error. That would be an odd paper indeed. Maybe instead life is a succession of drafts, each better than the last as we learn how to write it and how to stop repeating the same mistakes. If that's the case it doesn't matter how badly the first draft or the second draft or the next-to-last draft looked, how much red pencil marked the copy. It only matters that our final draft is something we can be proud of.

Is that how God sees me? Comments welcome.

(Two ramifications of this thought: 1, Thus the contents of our "paper" aren't our deeds. It isn't a record of the events of our lives. It is a record of what we have become, of who we are, which may be something distinct from what we have done or what has happened to us. I like that idea, because it helps explain why life isn't fair now but will be then, why we don't all have to have the same opportunities or experiences to get to the same place, why I look back on my own life and don't recognize myself as the sum of my experiences.2 It also explains why it's okay that I've forgotten so much of my life. It also points to the idea of grace and that we don't earn salvation through our deeds. 2, This changes the idea of a Savior. He doesn't fix our past, changing the things we did. What's done is done. Instead he helps us make sure those things are absent from our present, our final draft.)

1 I was going to say that he doesn't seem to mind us giving him a bad name, but then I thought, perhaps he is using a pseudonym after all.
1 Or recognize my experiences as my own. You know how your own life seems "right" and other lives seem a little off somehow? Like when you would spend the night at a friend's house and see what his family ate for dinner, and what kind of table they sat at, and what they talked about, and whether they kept cold water in a pitcher in the fridge or got it straight from the tap, and what shows they watched afterwards, and what kind of toothpaste they used, and you would wonder what it would be like to do everything this way every day, to feel the mild discomfort of strangeness all the time, to do everything "wrong." When I look back at my own life these days—at the kinds of friends I had and the relationships I chose to pursue and the clubs I joined in high school and the jobs I worked and the classes I took and the clothes I wore and the decisions I made—it feels like the neighbor's life, the wrong one. I wasn't the All-American boy after all. It's like the TVs at Best Buy, all lined up, and seeing them side by side you notice that some of them look distinctly green or red or whatever. You single out the one that looks normal and you say to yourself, "That's just like the one we have at home." But the thing is that now, when I look back on my own life, I'm starting to think it's a green TV, and maybe other people have had a more normal experience.


Anonymous said...

God knows us more than we can ever hope to know anything. Sometimes to trust in something we cannot comprehend is terrifying, especially if one holds a high opinion of one’s innate ability to live a good life. Perfectionism is rewarded in our American frontier society. Thank Heaven that isn’t the way God works. He created all things that are good. Therefore, he sees in us unconscious goodness.

In Milton’s Paradise Lost Adam and Eve's new knowledge from sin is only a realization of what has been lost. Many times we don't realize how great we have been precisely because we have always been that way. (This works in reverse as well.) The imago dei permeates all facets of life. We can only love ourselves as much as we love God since we are made in his image. (Unless you happen to be a Calvinist)

Sometimes we get so caught up in being perfect that we miss it all together. Where in the scriptures does Christ fret about perfectionism? Christ’s thoughts were only for others. Perfectionism is inherent selfishness. A need for a perfect “I” instead of a perfected “us”. We are all rough drafts in the face of the almighty, and we didn’t want it any other way … remember? When we realize this we start to get a bit of humility, maybe even charity, into our lives again. One thing that helps me keep perspective is to remember that, before the war in Heaven, Satan was just like us. His need to be right, to be in control, to be the perfect ONE, led him to nothingness. So will our own pride if we do not keep our hearts and minds focused on others.

I don't think Van Gogh was freaking out about how his early work was, more or less, average-especially because no one liked his stuff anyway. He just kept at it, the best he could, for as long as he could. Greatness is born by perseverance. We love Christ because he did it. He kept at it and never gave up. THAT is greatness. And that, no matter what our inherent gifts are, is achievable. Good luck with your draft. I loved reading this post.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I was thinkg that maybe our final draft should be something God can be proud of, right? HIS priorities are eternal while we often fall short in our various perspectives.

I just read my last post looking for ways to edit. I won't do it.

Blogger won't let me.

Elisa said...

Yup. It's more about where we're headed than where we're at.

How's that for a sentence in need of some redrafting?