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Disheveled Theologian: Why I do what I do

I was listening to a podcast this morning while folding clothes — a task made infinitely better by the input of a good podcast — and the speaker, Minnesota author Leif Enger, said something about the moment when he knew that books and writing were going to be very important in his life.

That made me think. When was that moment for me? I didn’t have to think very long. The truth is, books and reading have always been vital to me. And yes, I do mean vital, not just “nice additions to my life” but vital. Like breathing. But there was one moment, in the fifth grade, when I saw the value of books as I never had before and it changed my life.

I was reading C. S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” I’d read it before — well, my mother had read it out loud to me — and I was sitting in the library at school reading it on my own and a friend started talking to me about it. She asked something about Aslan (the lion of the title) and as I started to explain him to my friend, I had one of those moments of clarity which we sometimes have in life. An epiphany, if you will.

I knew that Aslan was the Savior of the fictional land of Narnia. He was a “type” of Christ, as theologians say, but as I explained this to my friend it dawned on me that this fictional book set in a made-up world, could open a person’s eyes to real, concrete truth. In other words, “pretend” could explain “real”. Suddenly I understood allegory (even though Lewis insisted that he didn’t mean the Narnia books to be allegorical). Suddenly, I understood the power of literature to open our eyes and change lives.

A year prior to that, I had decided that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Now I knew that I wanted to write stuff that mattered. My focus was narrowing. My dreams were taking shape. It took a long time from there — decades — for me to find what I’m best at writing. For me to find the words that can change lives.

I wrote a lot in between. A lot of bad poetry. A lot of mediocre prose. I wrote essays. I wrote letters. I wrote theological treatises. Granted, many of those were assignments in school, in college, in seminary. But in between assignments I wrote for myself as well. I wrote stories. Mostly short, a few long. One very long indeed. I wrote fiction. I wrote fact. I wrote about my life. I wrote for the newspaper; I wrote for the radio. And finally, after hundreds of thousands of words, I came to see that what I write about best is actually quite self-centered.

What I write about best is me.

How self-absorbed can a girl be?!

But there is another ingredient which I’ve learned to add. The ingredient which I loved in the Narnia books. The ingredient which I studied for three years in seminary. The ingredient which I was raised to believe in and which permeates every aspect of my life.

God.

So yes, I write about my ordinary life, but to that I apply theological truths. Because there is no part of my life — or of yours — that God cannot fit in. There is always a Bible verse to apply. Always a deeper theological nugget to be found that can pertain to real, ordinary life.

That’s what the stories we tell with our lives must do. Bring our listeners — our colleagues, our friends, our families — back to God. Not in a preachy way. In a real way. Applying God’s truths to our everyday lives. So that in all we do, Christ is glorified.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is gcodon@gmail.com.

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