Thursday, April 7, 2011
Form follows function
When I was a Biology student, I kept hearing this phrase over and over again, "form follows function." I'll be honest with you, I didn't totally get what that meant for the longest time, so I'll break it down into normal people language, not science speak. Basically form following function means that organisms have the parts they need to accomplish the stuff they do. For example, what does a bird do? Fly obviously. So what does it have? Wings, feathers, hollow bones, an innate navigational system. It's crazy how well-equipped those avians are. In college I spent absurd amounts of time studying how perfectly designed the living world is. People think that the planet is going to hell in a handbasket (and there's definitely validity in being concerned about the Earth) but, by design, it's astonishing how well-functioning our planet is.
I could write about that all day, but the Earth's homeostasis isn't really the point today. The point is this- why in the great big amazingly well put-together world did I think that I was any different from the rest of the forms following all their specifically chosen functions? Think about it. How ridiculous would it be for a bird to not fly when it's obviously made to? (penguins don't count) We look at all of the Biology around us everyday and we know that leaves spread to catch sunshine and insects carry pollen on their spindly little legs while they search for something sweet to drink and we think that we are somehow without purpose?
There are a lot of reasons we get so mixed up, and I'm not here to write about those today. Instead I'm here to write about finally connecting our form with our function.
So I've been taking the writing class, right? And it's been amazing. Every time I get home, I am beyond excited about the confirmation I've received and the fresh thoughts and the camaraderie with other writers. But last night was over the top. The evening was a Q&A session with a panel of five different writers and story-tellers who work on staff for the Austin Stone. They're all highly qualified, passionate people. And they spoke so much truth in the hour block of time that I'm still trying to sort it all out.
I knew we were having a panel, so I came prepared. As I've been editing lately, I've realized that I don't like the tone of my book at some parts. It sounds preachy. And I don't want to be preachy. It also sounds generic. Take a step back with me for a minute. Remember that a story is a character that wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. Well, in Snapshots, the reader is the character. I'm trying to help the reader identify their own desire for security and then help them overcome whatever conflict they're experiencing in their life to get the real security that's only found in the Lord Jesus. But I was trying to get the reader to connect by throwing these random examples out- like a girl whose going through a breakup, a student who doesn't fit in, a woman who is experiencing trouble getting pregnant. Sometimes that's good, sometimes it's good to see your struggle printed on someone else's page. But, to be honest, it derailed my writing and made it sound cheesy and preachy. And there's plenty of cheesy, preachy Christian writing out there. I certainly don't need to add to it.
So I asked the panel about this, "Should I keep the examples? What should I do to connect the reader to the story?" Their answer was unanimous- "Lose the examples. Tell your story." They reasoned that readers naturally insert themselves into other people's stories. Of course I know this because I do it all the time. Donald Miller is talking about road biking and hiking to Machu Picchu and connecting with his estranged father in Million Miles, and I'm completely inspired, even though I mountain bike and am kind of a daddy's girl (Machu Picchu sounds good though!) Point is, Donald's writing his story about living good stories and though Donald's story is way different from mine, it makes me want what he wants- to live a meaningful, worthwhile story. In Snapshots, the potential to do the same thing is there. I don't have to validate the girl whose boyfriend just broke up with her by writing that out as an option for why this book might be good for her, I just need to tell my story- what broke my heart and why that made me want to find out who I am in Jesus Christ. Chances are, if I tell the truth, then everyone else out there feeling lost and confused and like everything is shifting will connect and go on their own journey while they read about mine.
But this involves risk. And I expressed this to the panel last night. "But my story," I said, "is going to tick some people off." And I kid you not- all five panelists leaned forward and said, basically in unison- "Then you have to write it."
When I got in the car, I had a quiet moment with God. I felt really close to God in a new way because this class is making me see Him not just as a Creator (though He is that) But Creator is such a "safe" word. We're used to that word, aren't we? It's a Sunday school, "Answers in Genesis" kind of word. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE God as Creator, and I am not going to stop approaching Him as Creator. I'm not talking about throwing away that aspect of worship. I'm talking about adding another one on- approaching God as an Artist. An Artist who knows that the good stories, the great pieces, the memorable stuff that makes an impact is always, always, always risky.
Think about it, His own story is the riskiest ever. He told people off, flipped over tables, made friends with crooks and all sorts of nasty people, tossed His good reputation to the wind, made enemies of all the good folks, was followed around by women of ill repute, and then at the end- He died. That's a risky story. But it's the greatest story ever told. So the Artist said to me last night in the car, "You can't tell a good story, if you're still too afraid to risk telling the truth."
And that's when I thought about my form and function. And I realized that I'm the bird afraid to spread my wings and fly. Because I'm a truth-teller. Not that I was always that way. But I think that God always meant for me to become one. That's most likely the reason that I met so much resistance to the truth when I was younger, before I knew Him. But once I found it, it was like pulling the sword from the stone. And now, I've got to learn to use that truth for good. Because that's what I was meant to do. I've been trying to do that, but I'll be honest, I get scared and I back down. Don't get me wrong, you have to be careful with truth. You can't go waving swords around without people getting hurt. But to not use it at all, or to dull the edge so much that it's ineffective, means that I'm not doing what I was made to do.
I do believe that God has brought me through the precise, well-planned circumstances to give me a passion for telling His truth to other people, and I've got to embrace that, even though people aren't going to buy into it. Shoot, I didn't even want to buy into it. But, there's deeper truth here for anyone whose reading this. We've all been made to do something. And chances are your "form"- your personality, your gifts, your desires- meet that function. But are you recognizing it? And what are you doing about it?
Don't let anything or anyone keep you from thinking about that for a minute today. I'm queen of letting laundry or bills or somewhere I need to be steal my time. The captivity of activity can keep us from ever doing anything at all. I challenge you- get down to the root. What were you made to do? Are you doing it? And if not, why not?