About Your Writing: Be Bold by Steve Adams

I’m Steve Adams, a writer, writing coach, and a freelance editor who’s studied a wide range of artistic forms before landing, quite late, on prose. As I’ve always been fascinated by the artistic process, I decided to start working my ideas out on the page, using a quote from a writer or other kind of artist as a prompt. I hope my column, “About Your Writing,” is useful to you.

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”—Jesus Christ, The Gospel of Thomas

“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”—Revelation 3:15-3:16

Today we’re going to church, and these are two of my favorite Christian quotes. The first I stumbled across years ago when I read Elaine Pagels’, The Gnostic Gospels. She is a religious scholar, and her book concerns a group of texts found in a buried urn during WWII, all of which look to be holy works from various Christian religious cults around the time when what we think of as the Bible was being put together. These “books” were either not included in, or not available, for the Bible as we know it, but the pages can be carbon dated back to that period. It was for me, who was raised with religion, eye opening and very healing, especially The Gospel of Thomas. Thomas, as you may know, is called “doubting Thomas” as an insult, because he didn’t just take Christ’s word at face value. He questioned. The premise of this gospel is that because of Thomas’s pressing him, Jesus took him aside and opened up a much more flexible and pliant approach to his teachings that echoed the Eastern philosophies and religions that would have been passing through this hotbed of thought at that time. And so, Thomas’s gospel reflects this, being less a closed system of Christianity, and more of an open one; less linear, and more circular. Again, like Eastern religions. And this line is from it.

I love its premise that if we want to be saved, then we have to bring forth what is within us. Not just the good parts, or the parts that society, or even we, approve of, and that a rigid Christian religion forces us to wear on the outside like an ill-fitting suit, but the messy parts that are inside, what Jung called “the shadow.” These are things like desire and its manifestations, unsanctioned forms of love, insecurity, anger, shame and, more often than you would think, strength and beauty, when so many of us are taught to be good boys and girls, to not stand out, and to go along to get along. You bring this stuff forth, the dark parts, the undervalued parts, the repressed and tabu parts, Christ says you will be saved. But what really puts the edge on the quote is the second line: If you don’t do this, you will be destroyed. “Destroyed” could be simply a wasted life, a life unlived. Destroyed could be becoming victim to a compulsion that overtakes you. Or destroyed could be, literally, to die because of your inability to handle your own material.

“Bringing forth” doesn’t mean, of course, that you get to “act out” any primitive impulses (and they are primitive because they’ve been repressed) on others. I have twice in my life, I will confess, wanted to kill a man. I mean that literally, no hyperbole. This may sound like a startling confession, but at both moments it was a clear option that my mind gave me, calmly, as if pointing me toward a window so I could look inside and see what was there. I, of course, knew murder wasn’t an option (it’s not an option for a sane person; you just can’t act that out), but nevertheless I had not been aware of this part of myself until then. It had been “brought forth.” Of course, many of us would not speak of such a moment, but since I’m a writer, I get to.

This is another great thing about being a writer. The form gives you a safe space to work out whatever “is within you.” And if you’re not comfortable with what you’ve written, of course, you never have to show it to anyone. But you get it down regardless, you get it out. You acknowledge it, and honor and welcome it by writing about it. And all these parts of yourself, these experiences now surfaced, become part of the palette of human experience you can bring to your work. It can help you understand and find humanity in even the most fiendish of your characters, which will make them more believable, more complicated, and often more frightening if only because of their self-delusion. Because I had experienced, or brought forth, such a clear and dark urge (one of them for selfish emotional reasons; the other, for the greater good of a small community), I had first-person access to it, and understood myself on a deeper plane. So then I understood my characters on that deeper plane too.

When we write we get to safely explore all this, all that, and more. We get to examine and live out and follow the consequences of such urges for our characters. And safely. What a gift.

And this ties into that second quote directly taken from the King James Bible, and I find it very interesting as well since, like the Thomas quote, it doesn’t fall into the “Thou Shalt Not” school of religion many of us were brought up in and rebelled against. No, this seems to be saying the worst thing you can be, as far as God is concerned, is lukewarm. This God wants passion. This God wants a point of view and a commitment to it, even if it’s against him. There’s an old Irish saying that goes, “You can pray to God and reach him in ten years, or you can curse him and reach him today.” To reach this God, thou shalt!

If this seems inconsistent with other teachings of the Bible, well, the Bible is a raging sea of contradictions. It’s what makes it so powerful, and useful, for good, and not always good. Our churches and our ministers cherry-pick passages to make a point, and for so many who worship, these snippets they are fed is all they know of that mad, sacred book. Not only that, it’s shocking, for me at least, to realize when it was constructed there were many other early Christian perspectives, like Thomas’s, that didn’t make the final cut. There is even a Gospel of Mary Magdalene (though some of that is missing). Can you imagine what a different world we would be living in if a woman, a prostitute, a person of the flesh, had been accepted and promoted by the church as one of Christ’s disciples?

But theology aside, we’re artists. We’re writers. and this work we do challenges us every day to be brave, to not only create and follow our characters’ stories, but to let ‘er rip as far as where those stories want to go. The landscape is a field of dark and light, a wonderland and a mystery to explore, and even the Bible itself gives you permission to go farther, and deeper, than you thought you were allowed.

So be bold.

Steve Adams’s writing has won a Pushcart Prize and Glimmer Train’s New Writer’s award, been listed as a “Notable Essay” in Best American Essays, and anthologized. His prose is widely published, and his plays have been produced in New York City. He’s a writing coach and freelance editor at www.steveadamswriting.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @iamsteveadams.

One response to “About Your Writing: Be Bold by Steve Adams

  1. I’m Steve Adams also, born in Nashville in May1961and adopted in July by a Church of Christ minister from Shawnee Oklahoma (The Sooner Nation) and grew up the proverbial wild and crazy preacher’s kid in Durant. My family has been encouraging me to write my story and I have a good one to tell but don’t have a clue about how to get started. At times I can put words to paper that shows a sign that I have a little talent in that regard, just wish I could speak as well as I can write. LOL I’ll be 60 in May and have already been presented with my senior citizen starter kit as an early Christmas present (3 canes, a reacher and multiple heating pads and cushiony pillows for my aching back and hips. I’m on SSI disability so I have all the time in the world to write my story and I really need something positive to fill my days instead of TV and trying to go Deef listening to Metallica and Alice in Chains at full blast with my ear buds in. Living on a limited fixed income is a struggle but it could be so much worse if my folks weren’t willing and able to help with groceries and a little gas money at times. Dad’s retired from the pulpit and Mom still runs Money Methods, her Dave Ramsey endorsed financial planning business. Right before I turned 50 my health went South and had 4 brain surgeries and two lengthy ICU stays to stop the seizures that just showed up one afternoon while sitting at a red light. My super duper brain and memory has returned but physically I’m a waste of space. The ex-wife couldn’t handle the situation so we’re divorcing and she’s already engaged and I haven’t had one single date since our separation in 2016. Anywho, I’d love some free or very inexpensive pointers or just a pat on the back telling me that this might not be your calling. Beats twiddling my thumbs 24/7/365.

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