Culture At Large

Unknown Authors of the Age to Come

Paul Vander Klay

In 2009, I began to use Twitter and Google Reader in a more concerted way. One of the things I have discovered by using these two tools is how many good writers there are out there. There are way more good writers who could write wonderfully helpful books than there will be a market or readers that do them justice.

I have a good friend who is a church planter and a terrific writer. I love it when he takes the time to tell stories because they shine and heal. He also is tremendously busy starting a whole cluster of churches and has some health problems. There are days I ponder the fact that we will not get out of him all of the terrific stories we should.

My grandmother had a terrific memory and I loved to sit and listen to her stories. She was the wife of a pastor who shepherded mostly prairie churches during the depression. She had stories of hobos, salaries unpaid, scoundrel church councils who refused to attend to their own parsonages and the like. For years some of us pestered her to write her stories down. When she was younger she wrote for The Banner, the magazine of the Christian Reformed Church. She eventually made some tapes of her stories but I know most of her stories were lost to us when she passed away.

I’m now 46 and thinking about writing in a more disciplined way. I’m getting old enough to begin to see (at a distance if the Lord wills) the end of my days and to get some sense of what I will and won’t accomplish. This is called a mid-life crisis. We begin to realize that not all of our hopes and dreams will be fulfilled and sometimes in response to this we strike out in a frenzied way to make those dreams come true. We get a jump on our “bucket list” sometimes leaving a wake of foolish destruction. There are ministerial versions of this as well. We want to leave our mark, grow that church, perfect that image or career, leave a legacy. Churches too often have to pay the price.

I believe the anxiety I find in my heart over lost stories, lost careers, lost conversations and midlife crises have a shared cause. All arise from a lack of a fully formed understanding of all that we have in Christ.

When I was a young boy in Christian school I was taught “the cultural mandate” was found in Genesis 1:28. I didn’t much understand it. When I was in college I saw Paul Schrader’s “The Mosquito Coast” and I was fascinated by the line spoken by the father-protagonist: "God left creation unfinished." Earlier this year I outlined Tim Keller's 2005 sermon on Cultural Renewal and it all came together. Culture making will continue in the age to come. My images of our life in the age to come were too culture-less, too art-less, too writer-less. The grandmother I knew was nothing compared to the resurrected story teller I will soon know. Somehow her tales of feeding prairie hobos will be translated. My friend's writing days have hardly begun. His words will heal in a world where healing is superfluous. The age to come will be filled with scholars, artists, authors working and collaborating in a way that makes the our current experience of magnification through internet connection seem ridiculously small.

JRR Tolkien had a sense of this. When he had writer's block while he was trying to work through that ridiculous project we know as "The Lord of the Rings" he wrote a short story about a silly little painter-sinner who just wanted to be left alone so he could paint. He was known for painting leaves and for being a bit strange and unimpressive. His broken, partial, feeble efforts at painting insignificant leaves were translated into a land where he and his bothersome neighbors would inhabit and enjoy. Check it out, it's online: Leaf by Niggle.

When I am feeling old, when I am starting to fret over projects I will never even begin, friends and family I don't have time to enjoy, places I haven't seen, food I haven't tasted, experiences that draw me that I will never get to enjoy, I think about culture making in the age to come and my fears subside.

What do you think?  Can you relate?

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