Thank You of the Week

Thank You of the Week May 14, 2004

I am going to strive to comment, once a week, on a person who has come into my life and brought blessing and inspiration.

It may be a person I’ve never met. It may be someone I know through email. It may be someone close to me.

Seems appropriate to start with someone close to me…

My wife.

Anne Maureen Doe Overstreet is an amazing woman. She’s amazing in that she remains committed to the hard, solitary, overlooked work of poetry. While others are working for paychecks, for recognition, and many other motives, she’s quietly carving at the clay of a blank sheet of paper, finding just the right words to capture experiences that she can then powerfully share with others.

I spend so much time talking about art and so little time actually making it. She endures the cacophonous quality of my activity, the rambling on after movie screenings, the endless Web site updates, the correspondence, the busy-ness. And she goes right on reading, thinking, praying, and writing.

Somehow, she makes me think of what we might have been in Eden.

I came across this quote on another blog today, and it suits Anne’s efforts in poetry perfectly. Teddy Roosevelt said: “It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out where the strong man stumbled, or where a doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, and who comes up short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause. The man who at best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails, fails while daring greatly, so that his place will never be with those cold timid souls who never knew victory or defeat.”

Anne is a hero in the arena of poetry for me. She spends next-to-zero time trying to get published (although when she tries, she IS published). But when she quietly shares her poetry with me, within our circle of friends, with our church, you can hear a pin drop. There’s mystery and magic in what she does, and I am continually in awe.

Thank you, Anne, again, for inspiring me to put down my critical pen and go try out the hard work of writing. Criticism matters, but only as a small piece of the larger effort, which is to create, to reflect, to reveal, to collaborate with God, and then to stand back and let the poem do its awesome and mysterious work.

A few of her poems are published online: Hereherehereherehere … and here.

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  • Anonymous

    Thank you both for changing your tone on your second posts.

    If what I say comes across as arrogant in any way, please let me know. I had some difficulty writing this.

    Anonymous said: “nearly all Christians feel superior to non-Christians at some level”.

    As a Christian I agree, I have seen Christians who are confused (wrong) and feel that they are “better” when they should only feel “better off”, or they feel “self-righteous” when their righteousness is a gift from God.

    I think sometimes non-Christians misunderstand Christians and think they feel they are “better” when they just feel they are “better off”, or think they feel “self-righteous” when they recognize their righteousness comes only from God’s grace. I suppose Christians may perpetrate this misunderstanding. The Christians in the previous paragraph don’t help.

    You might think this is pretty straight forward and goes without saying, but I would like to make sure it is stated clearly…

    If “Christians feel superior to non-Christians”, that goes against the most basic understanding of the Gospel message. I am no better than the worst sinner (Rom 3:23) either before conversion or after. I need to meet God at the cross, where there is no room for pride, in order to receive grace and forgiveness. (See Phil 2:1-11, which describes what Christian humility is supposed to be.) And … I am told to take communion frequently so that I don’t forget it!

    – Adam.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Reading your second post, first of all, thanks for responding to my rather curt replies with grace and patience.

    Secondly, I see now that we’re actually not so far apart in our views. I don’t see much in your remarks that I disagree with. I’m constantly struggling with cynicism about the Religious Right … they’re responsible for most of the grievous personal wounds I’ve suffered in my life. I’m working through a time of trying to gain a spirit of reconciliation even as I try ever more aggressively to combat the lies, misinterpretations of Scripture, the arrogance, and the self-righteousness that permeates the Right. Thus, I tend to yelp when I detect generalizations because I see that as increasing polarization rather than cultivating dialogue with those “in that corral.”

    Anyway, thanks for your reply. I understand you better now. Indeed, blind obedience can be as dangerous as hatred. I’ve just seen enough to know that there are many within the “borders” of the Right who are not blindly following … and yet, those hardly represent a majority.

    And thus, I wake up every day with the trite but important slogan “Be the Answer” in my head. I see many who seem like spiritual giants to me cultivating dialogue, confronting assumptions, and manifesting a new kind of spirit within the American church, and I hope to follow their example.

    Christ did say that he came not to bring peace but a sword. Boy, he sure got that right. Even his followers are at war with each other. No wonder he wept. But he also said that “Many will come in my name and deceive many.” To borrow your term … “Check.”

    He also said that many would come before God and say “Look at what we’ve done in Your name.” And God replies, “I never knew you. Depart from me.”

    “I never KNEW you.” Therein lies the rub. As Sam Phillips is so fond of singing, we need to reorient ourselves to our personal engagement with the mysteries of Christ, with our dialogue with the Almighty, and take our hands off of the tools with which we so clumsily and aggressively and passionately work, until we can understand better what serving God really looks like.

  • Anonymous

    Looks like I hit a nerve… guess I’ll de-lurk again and give you satisfaction. :D

    >> Never find themselves in the wrong… check.

    The generalization that you accuse me of was assumed on your part and not intended on mine; there is by no means a dearth of active theology in the US. However, much of the American Christian culture I’ve observed sports an impenetrably tautological worldview; Christians may be willing to self-analyze, but outright refuse to critically examine their beliefs.

    >> Based more on tradition than source material… check.

    I’m in agreement with you here, though rather more cynical regarding the prevalence of such behaviour.

    >> Believe all non-members are evil… check.

    How many Christians do you know who, upon meeting a gay man, could see past the sin enough to truly love the person? How many would be too disturbed to successfully converse? ‘Evil’ may be a bit of a stretch, but nearly all Christians feel superior to non-Christians at some level.

    >>Unwilling to engage in meaningful dialogue… check.

    My first post was an attack, not dialogue, and understandably fails badly when judged as such. I do, however, believe occasionally combative debate to be a necessary part of meaningful dialogue; ideals are born of battle, not compromise. Would I have gotten such a verbose reply had I been gentler? :D

    >> Willing to kill for their beliefs… check.

    Your vision of America doesn’t quite stack up with history; America has created more tyrants than it has deposed, and this has not changed – the election in Afghanistan was a joke, and if Iraq has an election it will be too. The American Christian right’s overwhelming belief is not in God, but in its leaders, religious and political, a belief that exceeds the bounds of safety and morality. This is a generalization, but it’s true enough to be valuable.

    The war in Iraq has already killed more innocents than all incidences of terrorism in the last fifty years; I’ll let you make the call on whether blind obedience is as dangerous as hatred.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >> Never find themselves in the wrong… check.

    “Never.” I’ve grown up in the church in America, and I’ll readily admit that the Religious Right suffers from some misguided politics and some arrogance. But anybody who responds by saying that churchgoers in America “never” find themselves wrong are making a gross generalization based on a few obnoxious and outspoken self-declared representatives.

    Islamic fundamentalists distinguish themselves on the international scene by plotting the spectacular murder of anyone who differs with them. The Religious Right gets over-zealous about “conversion,” but the violence in which they too readily involve themselves is driven more by the desire to protect and to liberate the oppressed than to obliterate anybody who disagrees with them. I’m sure there are a few exceptions, and some of them may even have microphones. But your use of the word “never” is your first generalization of several… and generalizations like that are detrimental to the “healthy dialogue” you seem to favor.

    >> Based more on tradition than source material… check.

    In weaker moments, and in weaker self-proclaimed representatives, yes. But most pastors I’ve met and most Christian writers and artists, and a great percentage of the Christians I know are more interested in source material than tradition. Maybe you need to meet more of your fellow believers. Of course, this all may be a matter of *which* Christian community you’re around. There’s over-emphasizing tradition, and then there’s the willingness to hammer Christ’s words to accommodate whatever folks want it to mean; wisdom lies somewhere inbetween.

    >> Believe all non-members are evil… check.

    WHOAH. Even in the most misguided Christian communities, I’ve never found a collective that considers “all non-members evil” any more than they consider themselves “evil.” Again, there are exceptions–the obnoxious, self-declared representatives that you see on TV and the far extremes which are better classified as cults than communities. But I grew up in Religious Right community (and walked away from it a long time ago) and I never encountered an “all non-members are evil” mentality.

    >>Unwilling to engage in meaningful dialogue… check.

    One of the great weaknesses of the American church, admitted. But I see a lot of evidence that that is changing, and that kind of change should be encouraged. Many conservative writers are focusing on that very subject, changing “engage the culture” from the language of militance to the language of dialogue. But while we’re on the subject, I’m interested in how taking cheap shots at the Religious Right is going to “encourage meaningful dialogue.” Fulfilling your own description of others, are you?

    >> Willing to kill for their beliefs… check.

    Again… WHOAH. While I’m also distressed at the readiness of the church to get behind military endeavor as readily as they do, I still see a massive difference between people who are willing to put their lives on the line to defend an oppressed people from a tyrant, and those who look at another culture and disagree with it, so they become suicide bombers and slam airplanes into towers full of people. There’s a big difference between saying “I’ll kill you for your beliefs” and “I’ll kill you to stop you from bringing the axe down on populations of people who live in fear of you.” And besides, I heard John Kerry saying quite a bit about “hunting down and killing” terrorists… this is not a distinguishing characteristic of the Religious Right in America.

    And just to make sure I’m not accused of making a “gross generalization” myself, I’m not stereotyping Muslims here. I’m talking about the claim that “the Religious Right” equals “Islamic fundamentalists” who declare a jihad against another culture because they disagree with it. Their goal: Kill us. Our goal: Protect our own people and innocents elsewhere by stepping between them and those who will kill them without mercy.

  • Anonymous

    Never find themselves in the wrong… check.
    Based more on tradition than source material… check.
    Believe all non-members are evil… check.
    Unwilling to engage in meaningful dialogue… check.
    Willing to kill for their beliefs… check.

    I consider myself a Christian, but much of the stuff I see coming out of the US is equally foreign to me as what I see in the middle east.