Frederick Buechner On Preaching & Writing
I love these words from Frederick Buechner on preaching & writing.
X + Y = Z. IF YOU know the value of one of the letters, you know something. If you know the value of two, you can probably figure out the whole thing. If you don’t know the value of any, you don’t know much.
Preachers tend to forget this. “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior and be saved from your sins,” or something like that, has meaning and power and relevance only if the congregation has some notion of what, humanly speaking, sin is, or being saved is, or who Jesus is, or what accepting him involves. If preachers make no attempt to flesh out these words in terms of everyday human experience (maybe even their own) but simply repeat with variations the same old formulas week after week, then the congregation might just as well spend Sunday morning at home with the funnies.
The blood atonement. The communion of saints. The Holy Ghost. If people’s understanding of theological phrases goes little deeper than their dictionary or catechetical definitions, then to believe in them has just about as much effect on their lives as to believe that Columbus discovered America in 1492 or that E = mc2.
Coming home from church one snowy day, Emerson wrote, “The snow was real but the preacher spectral.” In other words nothing he heard from the pulpit suggested that the preacher was a human being more or less like everybody else with the same dark secrets and high hopes, the same doubts and passions, the same weaknesses and strengths. Undoubtedly he preached on matters like sin and salvation but without ever alluding to the wretched, lost moments or the glad, liberating moments of his own life or anybody else’s.
There is perhaps no better proof for the existence of God than the way year after year he survives the way his professional friends promote him. If there are people who remain unconvinced, let them tune in their TVs to almost any of the big-time pulpit-pounders almost any Sunday morning of the year.
– Originally published in Whistling in the Dark
I WISH THAT I had told my writing students to give some thought to what they wanted their books to make happen inside the people who read them, and I also wish that I had told them what Red Smith said about writing although I suppose it is possible that he hadn’t gotten around to saying it yet . . . . What Red Smith said was more or less this: “Writing is really quite simple; all you have to do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein” — another haematological image. From the writer’s vein into the reader’s vein: for better or worse a transfusion.
I couldn’t agree with Red Smith more. For my money anyway, the only books worth reading are books written in blood. . . .
Write about what you really care about is what he is saying. Write about what truly matters to you — not just things to catch the eye of the world but things to touch the quick of the world the way they have touched you to the quick, which is why you are writing about them. Write not just with wit and eloquence and style and relevance but with passion. Then the things that your books make happen will be things worth happening — things that make the people who read them a little more passionate themselves for their pains, by which I mean a little more alive, a little wiser, a little more beautiful, a little more open and understanding, in short a little more human. I believe that those are the best things that books can make happen to people, and we could all make a list of the particular books that have made them happen to us.
– Originally published in The Clown in the Belfry