// on Don Miller on Salinger

I’ve got great respect for Don Miller, both as an author and as a Christian, and his eulogy for J.D. Salinger (which appeared on his blog the other day, and can be found here) only increases that respect. It’s pretty easy to pretend that we’re not really affected by anyone, that our foundations are totally unique – but especially for those of us who write, attempting that always leaves you with the slightly uneasy feeling that one day someone will find you out.

Don’s observations on his own style ring true with me, too; when I do re-read what I’ve written in the past I fairly often feel some measure of frustration about my attempt to sound like someone I’ve read, or to come up with some punchy or distinctive phrase that sticks in people’s minds. That’s not always a bad thing, sure, but acknowledging it has some positive consequences…

The first is to remember that the people who we imitate are people who we want to be like, and that in itself is pretty revealing when it comes to how we think of ourselves. The people who we imitate, are they people who rest upon good foundations? The things that we admire about them, are they good things? So for me, some of the things that I respect about the authors and pastors and musicians who I love are their honesty and frankness, their profound and concise ways of expressing things – aspects that I’ve tried to incorporate in my own life and writing. But it’s just as worth saying that some of the things I copy are just my attempt to fit into a particular tradition, trying to emulate my heroes so that people will see me in the same way.

Which is a cynical ploy, admittedly, but it’s also one that we all fall prey to now and again.

The second is that we can’t pretend objectivity in any circumstance. We’re all shaped by our backgrounds and by the things that we love and hate, and that directly affects the way that we see the world. That’s not a bad thing, either, but it does mean that some people will have a harder job accepting facts, that some methods of expression simply won’t resonate with some people – that there isn’t simply a ‘one-size fits all’ way of seeing things, even though it would be easier if there were.

The same goes with any of us when we come to the Bible, of course. Would I find it easier to believe some of it if I hadn’t read so many introspective, or deconstructive, books? Possibly, but I did read them, and I can’t un-read them, and so I have to live and read in the light of that fact – and maybe advise others to do differently in future.

And the third consequence is the remembrance of the fact that we’re all works in progress. We’re all learning as we go, and so I can point you to a number of places even on this blog where I have apparently contradicted myself, simply because my view has changed with time. That’s okay, though. It will happen again, and when it does, I will apologise and then i’ll attempt to explain why…

Humility means accepting that I am not God, and that my views are simply commentary. The same is true when it comes to any conversations with non-Christians, too; I am not infallible, and so if I’m wrong, my ability to admit that has value in and of itself. My views will continue to change and be reshaped over time, and different things will continue to impact me differently over time. And if anything, that makes me happier, rather than sadder. If this was my peak of intellectual brilliance, then where would there be to go except downhill?

So all credit to Don Miller for his honesty about the craft of writing and the self-presentation that all of us subscribe to on some level. Maybe it is dangerous to be putting your thoughts out on the internet, but perhaps only if you put them out to a hostile audience. For the moment, I’m sticking with the conclusion that honesty is best policy.

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