Ripping Out My Past

I’m in the attic staring at boxes. One is labeled Journals, 1979-1985. Another is Journals, 1986-1990. Another is Letters: friends and family, 1975-1982. Another…

But I stop to muse: Look at these hundreds of pages of letters exchanged in only seven years. Typed or handwritten originals from recipients; carbon copies of my replies. Yes, we wrote long letters then, and treasured them enough to keep them.

And the journals. Spiral bound notebooks that I kept by hand daily from 1979 until a couple years ago, though the past ten years or so are scanty. That’s because I started using the computer for all my writing.

The journals had been my “commonplace books,” as I thought of them, modeling myself on Virginia Woolf. She kept notes of her reading, notes for writing projects, and personal reflections all in one consecutive notebook. Once I started thinking of myself as a writer, I imitated her practice.

So in these boxes of notebooks is a record of my every thought during about thirty years.

And they all have to go.

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Courage in Community: 25 Years of Image

Guest post by Hunter Sharpless

To celebrate Image’s twenty-fifth anniversary we are posting a series of essays by people who have encountered our programs over the years. Read the earlier installments: Stumbling into the WaterfallHenri Nouwen, Reaching OutThe Notecards of Paradise, and 18 Years of Glen Workshops.

Once I eavesdropped on a conversation in the graduate student lounge. A couple of my MFA peers here at the University of Minnesota were discussing a project they were going to call the Post-human Anthology. A snippet of their editorial statement: “We are simply and passionately trying to assemble a constellation of visionary contemporary poetry that challenges humanism by reaching into the volatile beyonds of post-humanism.”

This is today’s avant-garde: A rational materialism so strict that it has moved beyond any distinction between human beings and animals.

Two hours later, off campus, I was with a group of friends that not only believes in the atavistic ideas of the soul and human exceptionalism, but in fact believes that we have been made in the image of a loving, omnipotent God.

Thus swings the intellectual schedule of an evangelical Texan writer.

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Avoiding the Mirror

Guest post by Cathy Warner

I have circled around this story several times, trying to write my way into it.

I begin with an inciting event:

An eighty-nine year-old man lies unconscious, unresponsive in intensive care in a California hospital. His name is Vince and he was hit by a car in the town he’s lived in near forty years, the same town that was my home for twenty-five.

I am now nine hundred miles north, but in my mind I see the pharmacy he left, the crosswalk, his wife waiting in their minivan parked outside the beauty parlor. I picture her stumbling from the car with her uneven gait, pedestrians rushing to her side, to his aide, sprinting to the fire department down the block for help.

I read the news on Facebook first, that “an elderly gentleman” had been hit, and stopped at this description of him. Though he’d been retired from his work as missionary to Pakistan the twenty-five years I’d known him, he was far from gentle.

From there my words add up to a litany of how hard this man—who died days later from his injuries—was to love, a long complaint about our relationship.

It doesn’t work. My editor tells me: “Basically you still believe he was deeply misguided about most everything and that you have the correct ideas, so the piece just becomes a ‘He was wrong and overbearing and fearful but we’re still all one in Christ.’”

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Christians in the Age of Sincerity

Guest Post

By Dyana Herron

Image has just published its 25th anniversary issue (#80). We’re pleased today to run an excerpt from a symposium in that issue entitled “The Road Ahead: Voices for the Next Twenty-Five Years,” consisting of reflections by a group of writers under the age of 35.

Although I don’t consider myself to have a finger on the pulse of culture (I’m not a journalist or a critic or an academic, but someone who writes mostly from a limited personal perspective), I do agree that the contemporary public square seems a safer place to be a Christian artist or intellectual than it has in even the recent past.

This is a strange position for Christians to find ourselves in, because we are much more accustomed to persecution than popularity. I can imagine, though, that if Jesus, with his wavy hair and mellow but antiauthoritarian attitude, chose to appear as a young man in America today, he might just as likely be crowned prom king as King of the Jews. And then where would humanity be?

Christians have never been particularly cool, no matter how hard DC Talk or our youth pastors tried to convince us otherwise. That’s partly because our parents never allowed us to go to the good parties. But more because, historically, coolness is about detachment, distance, and self-assurance, whereas Christianity is about commitment, presence, and self-surrender.

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What Now?

Guest Post

By Scott Cairns

Image has just published its 25th anniversary issue (#80). We’re pleased today to run an excerpt from a symposium in that issue entitled “The Road Behind Us: Image’s Founding Generation,” in which we asked several writers and artists who have been part of Image’s community from its beginnings what they see as having changed over the years, whether there’s still a need for a venue like Image, and what our new calling might be.

Yes, the cultural landscape in America has changed dramatically since the 1980s. And building upon the previous brilliant, pioneering successes of a relative handful of remarkable writers—among them, John Updike, Annie Dillard, Denise Levertov, and Larry Woiwode come to mind—Image journal has been key to effecting dramatic change in the three decades of interim.

I believe that it was sometime in the fall of 1993 that I first learned of Image. I was gigging a Texas writers’ conference in San Angelo, and I met up with Virginia Stem Owens and her husband David who were also presenting their work. We hit it off, and—between readings, panel discussions, and other typical conference fare—struck up a series of conversations that led to what has been a continuing friendship. It was during that long weekend that Ginger first told me about this newish “Journal of the Arts and Religion,” suggesting I might send some work to Greg Wolfe, her then colleague at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas, and the editor and publisher of the magazine.

To be honest, I didn’t think I would be sending anything to Greg anytime soon. I had by then seen more than my share of literary journals attempting to bridge the chasm between art and faith, and in no previous case had I witnessed anything other than an acute diminishment of art, more often than not coupled with a cartoonish take on faith, to boot. That is to say, I was not expecting anything different along those lines.

Then I saw a copy of the new journal, Image Number 3, published the previous spring.

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