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    And also cash. In addition, I'll gladly edit essays, articles, books—anything with sentences, really—that you have written. Email alymhawkins [at] gmail [dot] com.
  • he said, she said

    John Cady on surprises
    Aleakim on why I write
    Aleakim on the awesome power of lime…
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    Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
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a true myth, postscript

Because writing an allegory in place of an application essay is a tad left of plumb, I wrote a postscript to the story that begins here. This is it.

I hope I can be forgiven for this unconventional essay. It is probably obvious that I am deeply passionate about storytelling. In thinking about how best to relate my academic journey thus far, my call to ministry and my hopes for the future, it was important to me to show, rather than only describe, how storytelling has helped to make sense of my experiences.

I did not finish my undergraduate degree. My academic career up to about midway through college was success upon success; I loved school and gobbled information like a ravenous child. Learning came easy to me. Around the age of nineteen, however, I could no longer form a coherent narrative that made sense of education. I didn’t know why I was in college. As much as I enjoyed learning, it felt pointless—no longer worth it only for its own sake. My grades took a nosedive and I quit school before I could eke out a degree, a dozen or so credits short of a B. A. in Music from Azusa Pacific University.

It was only in retrospect, after a decade of “wandering,” that I understood my disillusioned malaise as something more than an angsty Gen-X cliché (though there was a little of that, too). I couldn’t have told you at the time that my problem was a story problem—or, rather, a lack-of-story problem. All I knew then was that college was preparation for church ministry, and the call to a life in church ministry sounded like a death sentence. (I also had a Gen-X penchant for melodrama.)

During those wandering years, I married a worship leader—a very bad idea if one is trying to escape church—and that kept me orbiting close enough to “the Tribe” to stay warm, as well as to witness a shift toward missional theology and practice and to listen in on the emerging church dialogs. I read a lot of good books and saw a lot of good movies (and some bad ones) and had long, meandering conversations with all kinds of people about those books and movies and other important topics, such as God. This immersion into story was a new baptism, an unexpected sacrament that imparted grace and catalyzed in me an ongoing process of spiritual formation. Every which way I turned, I bumped into Jesus and was changed.

In the meantime, I fell headlong into a career for which I was not, on paper, qualified but for which I was, by accident, prepared: book editing. I couldn’t help but notice something, after notching a few titles by prominent authors on my editorial belt: Most Christian nonfiction books, study guides and group curricula are written under the assumption that spiritual formation can be activated by information. (This assumption is shared by many in the broader culture; not a week goes by that I don’t read a blog post or editorial espousing access to information—usually via the Internet—as the cure-all for humanity’s ills.) This is diametrically opposed to my experience.

I have edited more than two hundred books and worked with dozens of authors, including Tony Campolo, Gloria Gaither, Gary Smalley, J. I. Packer, Kenneth Boa, Joel Hunter, Shane Claiborne and George Barna. Their work, and that of many other Christian writers and thinkers, has immeasurably impacted my spiritual growth—but not in the ways I believe were intended. Rather than galvanizing spiritual transformation, their information has lent me a vocabulary to articulate my journey with God to other believers. It is not a gift I take for granted; the ability to contextualize my experience within “the Tribe” opened wide the door for me to belong. Once I belonged to the Tribe, I couldn’t help but love the Tribe. And once I loved the Tribe, a life in church ministry—to which I was called long ago—sounded . . . exactly right.

This is the reason I want to study for my Master of Arts in Intercultural Service: to help the Tribe rediscover the singular power of stories and storytelling to form our lives in Christ. There is an enormous gap, I believe, between how the church seeks to change minds and hearts and how hearts and minds are actually changed. The church has, to a great extent, bought into the fallacious notion that its biggest competitor is science, that we in the West sojourn with a native tribe defined by facts. But our native tribe, just like every other human culture past and present, is shaped by its stories. And that’s good news! Because the Tribe of tribes is called to be shaped by Story, too.

How can we make the shift? And how can I help? I don’t know yet. But I believe the MAIS course of study, with its focus on the intersection of Christian mission with diverse cultures—stories shaping each other!—will help answer these questions. I realize that a majority of seminarians who seek an MAIS are preparing for service in the global mission field, while I am not; I am called to serve here at home, in the local church. Yet I believe the kind of ministry I am called to perform—helping the Body of Christ use its imagination—is fundamentally cross-cultural. With all due respect, there are few endeavors more foreign to the church’s existing culture. It is my hope that the course of study designed to prepare global missionaries for intercultural service can also prepare me to tell really good stories to a church that has forgotten how to speak the language.

Any thoughts, bloggy friends?

a true myth, part 3

The is the third, and last, part of my application “essay” to seminary. Part 1 here. Part 2 here.

The girl heard more of the Story than ever she had before, out of the Way among the native tribes. Around every ceremonial fire, on every feast day, in every high place and low place, she heard the Voice in the native tribes’ stories. It sang of universes and souls held together by silken threads, often broken but never beyond repair. It sang of evil so potent it could slay good and of good so pure it could rise from the dead. It sang of the world reborn after a hard labor and of love remade by a relentless few who would not give up. It sang of death and of life and of meaning. It sang and sang and would not stop singing.

As she delved ever deeper into the arts of storytelling, the girl discovered the Old Ones’ songs. These sounded alien and unsettling because she had not learnt the scales and rhythms. But the strange din resonated in her heart in a way her mind could not deny. And so she began to learn the Old Ones’ ways.

If the girl hoped to avoid the Way and forge her own, coming to know the Old Ones and their songs was not wise. For as she grew to love them, even as the Voice sang to her in the native tribes’ stories told around ceremonial fires and on feast days and in high places and low places, the Story unfurled before her eyes like a goldspun tapestry, ransomed from the rubbish heap of ancient times. She understood, breathless and spellbound before the tableau, that the Story was not told to help Storytellers live in the Way; the Way was made to help Storytellers live in the Story.

It was the beginning of a beginning. From that moment, the girl longed for nothing but to become a Singer.

Next week, the non-scare-quote essay.

a true myth, part 2

Here is Part 2 of my seminary application “essay.” Part 1 here.

There came an age when many Storytellers had less room for mystery in their hearts than in ages past. The paradox of the Story that is also the Way weighed heavy upon them, and they came to believe that the Tribe should choose one above the other. The Way, they said, could be distilled and delivered at once, while the Story could only be told over a very long time, around ceremonial fires and on feast days and in high places and low places. The Way, they said, could answer all a person’s most urgent questions about how to live, while the Story could only inflame her thirst for life. The Way, they said, could overcome and abolish the native tribes’ destructive stories with systems and facts and lists, while the Story could only invite them to imagine better characters and quests and consummations.

In each successive generation, greater numbers of Singers and Storytellers were persuaded by these arguments. Fewer Storytellers told stories and the Story; more distributed data. Fewer Singers learnt singing; more recited slogans.

And it came to pass, in this age of information, that a girl was born to an ancient line of Singers. She was taught the Way and tried her best to live according to its statutes, for she loved the Voice and longed to please it. Yet from her first day, she hummed along with the Story when snatches of its melody sneaked into the air. As she grew, she asked many Singers about the bits and pieces of the Story she had overheard, hoping that one might invite her first to a ceremonial fire and then to a feast day and thence to high places and low places so that she might hear it and learn it and, perhaps, sing it. But all they could tell the girl were excerpts of the Story used to illustrate their teachings of the Way.

Just before the girl was of an age to become a Singer herself, she discovered the stories of the native tribes. And while she still loved the Voice and longed to please it, the stories moved her in mind and heart as the Way never had. She heard in the native tribes’ stories echoes of the Story she had overheard from her first day. Their discordant, unfinished tales of sacrifice, betrayal, violence, hope, grief and devotion were true, even when they were not.

The girl came to believe that telling stories could be for her an alternative to the Way. And so she snubbed the Voice’s call to sing, for she had no desire to instruct and instructing was the only song she had learnt. She left her training to swap tales around ceremonial fires and on feast days and in high places and low places. She no longer gathered with the Storytellers. She wandered, listening to stories and composing her own.

Part 3 (the last) tomorrow, and then the for-real essay that explains the story, for the story-impaired.

a true myth, part 1

Well, I’ve finally gotten around to applying to seminary. I’m excited. And terrified. I haven’t been accepted yet; I just popped everything in the mailbox this morning. I’ll let you know when I hear the good (or possibly bad) news.

Until then, I thought you might enjoy the “essay” I wrote as part of the application. (I use scare quotes because I didn’t exactly follow the instructions.) Here, for your reading enjoyment, is part 1 of “A True Myth.”

There was once a girl born to an ancient line of Singers. Time out of mind, generations of the girl’s forebears had been Singers for the Storytellers, the Tribe of tribes.

The Storytellers had each heard the Voice and learnt its Story in their own tongue. They sojourned among their native tribes, telling and retelling the Story around ceremonial fires and on feast days and in high places and low places, yet their hearts dwelt in the Tribe of tribes. Their loyalties were pure and undivided; for the Story named the native tribes not enemies of the Voice, but its beloved daughters and sons from of old, who had forgotten the Story and settled for their own. Longing for their sisters and brothers compelled the Storytellers to wander with the native tribes.

The Singers were Storytellers too, yet they had special duties among the Tribe. Their first obligation was to sing the Story when the Storytellers gathered, reminding them of its words and melody and cadence. In this way, when the Storytellers resumed their travels and heard their native tribes’ stories, they could listen for echoes of the Voice. For the Voice did not speak only to Storytellers, but ever called its wandering children home, singing its invitation even in their discordant, unfinished tales of sacrifice, betrayal, violence, hope, grief and devotion. When the Storytellers caught wind of the Voice’s whispered summons twined in the native tribes’ stories, they added their voices to its call. Thus, many heard the Story and became Storytellers.

The Singers’ second obligation was to harmonize their song with the Old Ones’ songs. The Old Ones were Singers who had come before. Their renderings of the Story sounded alien and unsettling if one did not first learn their scales and rhythms, for each had sung the Story in a different way, according to his or her time and place and native tribe. By learning the Old Ones’ ways, the Singers sang truly.

The Singers’ third obligation was to guide the Storytellers in living the Story. For the Story was not just words to be chanted around fires and on feast days and in high places and low places; it was the Way of the Tribe of tribes. This was a mystery.

Part 2 to come . . .

the many reads of wonderpants brown

Friend of the blog (and RL drinking/philosophy buddy) Doug “Wonderpants” Brown is blogging 2010 in books. I like books. I like Doug. This is going to be an excellent year.


Pint of Stout

I finished a short story last week, a story I started writing two years ago. For the longest time, I didn’t know what it was about. All I knew was that two guys, bandmates disenchanted by their lack of opportunities to play, hang out at a dive bar and meet weird people. I thought for awhile that it was about unfulfilled artistic ambition, but apparently it’s about loneliness and belonging. Surprise! No wonder I couldn’t finish it.

It’s strange to work on a story whose theme escapes me. I’m obsessed with meaning in real life, so of course I’m obsessed with it in stories—but I recognize this obsession is a menace when it comes to storytelling. As Stephen King wrote in his memoir, “Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story” (208). I am rather a preachy sort of person, but not a preacher by trade; sermonizing makes for excellent sermons and terrible fiction. I guess I’m saying it’s not such a bad thing that I didn’t know for awhile what this particular story was about. Good practice.

When it was finished (okay, I’m still tinkering), I was taken aback by its crudity. My two main characters are guys, and my imagination seems to believe that when two guys get together to drink beer, vulgar things are said and sometimes done. The wacky part is that it felt completely natural when I was writing, not gratuitous at all. Surprise! Apparently, this pastor’s daughter’s id presides over deep-drilled wells of nasty. I’m not going to send it to my mother to post on the fridge, because I kiss her with this mouth.

I’m still processing the last surprise. I sent out my little baby to a couple of people whom I trust as readers, to get their feedback before I do whatever it is I think I’m going to do with it (not yet determined). And I am a mess. Surprise! I’m just as neurotic as I’ve always feared. It’s taken every ounce of mental discipline not to edit and re-edit and re-edit again, based on what I imagine their comments will be. Good grief. Anxiety is so pointless.

for the love of words

I wrote not long ago about learning to read in a new way—learning to read with attention toward the craft of writing. This has put me recently in mind of learning to read the first time.

I don’t remember it. My parents swear, with the confidence of proud progenitors, that I had just turned three when I sat on Dad’s lap as he perused the newspaper, pointed to a headline and said, “Does this say [whatever the headline said]?” There was, I’ve heard, much amazement and rejoicing.

Apocryphal or not, I feel as though I’ve always known how to read—I don’t remember not knowing how. And from a very early age, words and stories were my dear friends, friends with whom I never not wanted to hang out, even if it meant ignoring actual human friends. Books were ever so much more understandable than people, especially little people like me who were somehow not like me because they didn’t read.

When I started school, they weren’t quite sure what to do with me. I recall sobbing every morning when my mom dropped me off, clinging to the chain-link fence as she walked away, begging her to take me with her, back to my books. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the other kids or my teacher, Mrs. Hollenbeck; it’s that I was so damn bored. “Reading time” meant tracing upper- and lower-case letters on what were, in those days, purple-stained papers called “dittos.” Sometime in November, as Mrs. Hollenbeck passed out dittos to the class so that we could practice drawing the letter “D,” I snapped. I stood up from my desk, put my hands on my chubby hips and announced, “If I have to do another one of these stupid dittos, I’m going to puke.”

And so began an era when I was allowed, during “reading time,” to read.

Which brings me to a story I loved so much back then that I can remember entire passages verbatim. I Googled it the other day, half out of desire to see if I really remember as much as I thought I did and half out of fear that I made the whole thing up. (Then, as now, I had a rather overactive imagination.) To my delight, I found the following video:

In contemplating my enduring affection for Tikki Tikki Tembo, I’ve come to the conclusion that it has little to do with the story itself (which, honestly, is not that interesting) and most everything to do with the sounds of the words—namely, Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo’s name. Such good rhythm! It’s like a dance that starts in your mouth, snakes its way to your booty and then to your feet. I could say Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo all darn day (and probably achieve some sort of trance state for my trouble).

I think Tikki Tikki Tembo has stuck with me all these years because my discovery of it marked a dawning pleasure in words for themselves, even nonsense words. As I’ve gotten older, my passion for words has broadened to include the ways they fit together to form lovely, coherent sentences with their own more complex rhythms, and sweeping paragraphs that flow one after the other to tell stories that somehow transcend the sum of their parts. But down deep, I still get a thrill from the littlest building blocks of stories: words.


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