Writing with a Thoughtful Christian Voice for Your Campus

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Writing with a Thoughtful Christian Voice for your Campus

Inez Tan, inez@augustinecollective.org

#AugustineCollective

Articles posted twice weekly at http://augustinecollective.org

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Reconciliation

Colossians 1:15-20: The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.


Three big campus audience identities your journals address:

  1. Students and members of the academic community: the life of the mind
  2. Campuses full of conflict and tension: a microcosm or vanguard of the country
  3. Young people in search of their vocation, purpose, and worth

 

Three questions every good article addresses:

  1. What difference does a Christian perspective make? (to this topic, issue, field of study, profession) “ You’re reminding the university what it’s for.” – Prof. James K. A. Smith
  2. How does a Christian perspective actually enhance our understanding here? What do you see, from a Christians standpoint, that other perspectives are missing?
  3. Why is a Christian perspective here good news?

 

More resources for later:

Crafting a writer’s guide/call for submissions can greatly improve the quality of your submissions because it helps your writers know what you’re looking for. Stanford’s Vox Clara has a great submission guide at https://voxclara.wixsite.com/voxclara/writersguide

Writing Tips for Christian articles from Prof. James K. A. Smith: https://storify.com/augustinecollec

 

 

A Thoughtful Christian Voice for Your Campus: Examples from AC Articles

1. What difference does a Christian perspective make? (to this topic, issue, field of study, profession, life)

(“The Manna of Human Rights”)
The non-theistic conclusion of where our human dignity comes from is that our human dignity, the foundation of our human rights, is just arbitrary. “Human dignity” was simply defined by a group of humans in a period of time. … On the other hand, the Christian perspective is quite different, and it has some shocking claims… Indeed, the human rights movement was originally a Christian movement. Before, “certain groups were inferior or superior because of possessing or not possessing a particular attribute (physical or cultural).”[6] This changed with the claims of the Bible.

(“Black Families and Labor Markets in the Post-Reconstruction Era”)
Rather than judging the merits of the Black family against the yardstick of White middle-class family values that emerged from its own specific historical and economic context, I’ve attempted to understand the Black family against its own historical and economic context. My driving purpose in pursuing this project is Jesus’ care and concern for those in society whose voices are ignored. In the account of Jesus and the blind beggar (Luke 18:35-43), Jesus stops to care for a blind man who cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” … Our Lord, who stopped to care for one man while leading a crowd, undoubtedly cares for the cries of the oppressed in our society, who ask to be taken on their own terms.

 

2. How does a Christian perspective actually enhance our understanding here?

(“Engineering for God and Humanity”)
As a humanitarian engineer, considering the different approaches toward disabled people around the world has forced me to confront my worldview and evaluate what I hold to be true. To the typical Western citizen, an Eastern worldview can come across as harsh on the disabled due to a deeply ingrained belief in karma. On the other hand, the more familiar view of secular humanism has resulted in many incredible humanitarian actions, but remains shaky on issues of moral objectivity, falls a bit short on human rights, and is quite depressing in its purely naturalistic and nihilistic approach to discovering meaning. While this article is certainly no proof for Christianity, what it does emphasize is an intellectually viable framework that motivates a stand for social justice issues and humanitarian work, while providing a solid foundation of morality and offering a satisfying message of hope and meaning that resonates with mankind’s deep desire to find purpose.

(“The Integration of Modern Psychology and the Philosophical Virtues in the Christian Worldview”)
In his work, Vitz notes that the majority of psychology is primarily concerned with disorders and compulsions that affect mental health and the ability of human beings to act in accord with what is considered normative behavior. In other words, the majority of psychology might be considered “negative” in its orientation towards mental health… [speaking] about mental health primarily in terms of disordered behavior and thinking rather than ordered behavior and thinking.[4] … In the midst of constantly reforming diagnostics and often inadequate measurements, it becomes clear that more stable factors, such as human nature and universal character values, are needed for consideration.

 

3. Why is a Christian perspective here good news?

(“Postmodernism and the Paradox of Tolerance”)
It is precisely in the area of disagreement, however, where postmodernism runs into a problem—because all ideas are personal, any disapproval of ideas is inherently disapproving of the person who holds those ideas. … No longer is intellectual disagreement a mutually beneficial exchange that brings its participants closer to truth. Instead, disagreement is a power struggle between various actors who seek to impose their worldviews on each other. … It is thus no surprise that safe spaces are such a contentious issue today. In a postmodern age, disagreement is not just a personal act, but an inherently violent one. …  It is this fear of violence that prevents modern persons from recognizing the inherent dignity of their peers. But while the postmodern metaphysical dream envisions truth as fundamentally personal, the Christian metaphysical dream understands truth as fundamentally predicated on the divine—Christ as Logos, Truth incarnate. Objective truth is real, and is not ontologically equivalent to human experience or applications of the human capacity for rationality. This dream, like the postmodern one, promotes personal conviction, but does so in a way that understands conviction as an attempt to understand the world rather than as an abstract expression of primal desire. … The Christian worldview emancipates believers from their natural tendency to devalue their opponents and redirects them onto a path that sees every person as a fellow searcher who deserves support and respect. This freedom provides the only stable foundation for tolerance, which, when properly cultivated, embodies the love that Christ has for mankind.

(“Forgiveness: Unjust and Illogical?”)
Many times, the process of confrontation, forgiveness, and repentance is not easy. In fact, outside of Christ, I would argue that it is illogical, simply because it looks so antithetical to reciprocal justice. In Christ, however, forgiveness is never a legitimizing of wrong, but a restoration of right. It is a practice made both possible and indispensable for those who have been set free from their offenses towards God, in order to extend His mercy to others.

 

Pitfalls

Because you are writing to your whole campus, not just to other Christians, you should avoid:

A title that is unlikely to appeal to non-Christians. A great title is interesting, communicates what the piece will be about, and appeals to Christians and non-Christians alike, even if it declares a Christian viewpoint. Great examples:

  • Forgiveness: Unjust and Illogical?
  • Postmodernism and the Paradox of Tolerance
  • Race and/or the Christian Identity?

Compare those to these titles, which present a hurdle to non-Christians:

  • The Justice of Christian Forgiveness
  • Why Postmodern Tolerance is Misguided
  • God-given Identity and Race

(For similar reasons, the art or illustrations in your journals may wish to avoid or be judicious with vocabulary from Christian and Westernized Christian images and iconography.)

A “we” that assumes your readers are all Christians or hold Christians beliefs. (“We must forgive others because we have been forgiven by Christ” à “Christians believe they should forgive others because all have been forgiven by Christ.” Or “As a Christian, I believe…”). Don’t use Christian jargon, and do explain Christian references: if you quote a scripture reference, quote and explain the verse and its context too. Don’t abbreviate books of the Bible.

“Bait and switch” or “bait and scripture”: shallowly talking about one thing before switching to Christian stuff. No one likes feeling like they’ve been tricked into reading about something else. (“The highest grossing movie last year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was about love. This shows that love resonates with everyone. But what does the Bible have to say about love? In 1 Corinthians 13…”)

“Hot air balloons”: overly grandiose or generalized statements that are essentially empty; while there may be some truth to them, they are so sweeping as to be difficult to prove. (“Today, technology has completely changed our lives.” “Since the beginning of time, woman have been oppressed by religion.”) Often these come at the start of an article and as an attempt to connect with an audience. To fix hot air balloons, 1) Focus or qualify your claims and support them with specific evidence, 2) Get to your main argument or question as soon as possible, ideally in the same paragraph.

Here’s a terrific example of the beginning of an article that covers a considerable amount of ground while avoiding hot air balloons, supporting claims with evidence, and launching us into the main questions that the article will be tackling:

(“Forgiveness: Unjust and Illogical?”)

The idea of “forgiveness” has a bad reputation.  Oppressors can twist the Christian faith’s insistence on forgiveness in order to argue that they are entitled to free absolution from their crimes. Sometimes, the expectation for people to extend forgiveness is used to manipulate victims into remaining in cycles of abuse. If systemically abused, it can erase the hope that any oppressor will ever receive their just desserts. Alexander Pope’s assertion that forgiveness is “divine” may look nice on paper, but, in reality, the practice of forgiveness often looks more like the antithesis of fairness.

The Bible is replete with statements of the beauty and blessing of forgiveness, but the Christian God is also supposed to be fundamentally just, upholding justice in the world and requiring us to do the same. How, then, do we address the seeming injustice in forgiveness? Is forgiveness inherently a legitimization of wrong?

 

 

Personal Writing Inventory

While you’ll have to work through this on your own, I’ve listed plenty of group activities you can do with a friend, or better yet, the whole staff of your journal (including the people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves ‘the writers’ – you’ll all benefit from their everyone’s vision!).

 

Part 1: What’s in your hand?

Believe that you have something to write about, as God gives us daily bread. You are not too young, too inexperienced, or too ‘bad’ of a writer.

When God told Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he asked, “What is that in your hand?” Moses replied, “A staff.” God subsequently used Moses’ shepherd’s staff to deliver his people.

What’s in your hand today? (Consider: your academic focus, major, or desired profession; classes you’ve taken, background (family, upbringing, ethnicity, hometown); your pain; your hopes…) Brainstorm, freewrite, and journal. Notice any patterns and connections that emerge.

 

Group activity: Discuss, help one another see patterns and connections. Revisit next semester.

 

Part 2: Your audience

Consider an actual article that you’re writing for your journal, or a hypothetical one.

We’re going to concretize the audience for your article. You’ll consider them in four concentric circles. For each circle, write down the names of real people (“my roommate Peter”) or descriptions of people (“Economics majors”):

  1. The innermost circle of 1-3 people. In your heart of hearts, this is who you’re writing this article for. You want them to read it and get it, more than anyone else. They should be people you know very well in some capacity.
  2. The middle circle: consider 10-15 more people.
  3. A larger but still focused audience of the next 50-100 people. Perhaps there is more than one group you’re thinking of here, e.g. people raised Christian who walked away from the church, students in my Psychology 101 class, people interested in climate change.
  4. Your whole campus. List some specific characteristics of your campus here: what do people love? What gets them excited? Where are people from? What are their faith backgrounds? What do you love most about your campus? What grieves you the most?

 

Group activity: Discuss who you’ve listed. Notice that you should probably have pretty different answers for a) and b), perhaps some overlap in c), and a lot of overlap or recognition for d).

 

Part 3: Your influences

The poet Thomas Lux said, “Writing is 80% reading.” List at least 5 articles that you most admire and strive to emulate. These can be by prominent experts in your field of study, scholars, journalists, theologians, etc.. They don’t have to be Christians, but if you’re having a hard time thinking of any by Christians, try asking people you trust for recommendations.

In 3-5 sentences, describe why. (Be as specific as possible! Use your own words, or refer to the sample rubric for the writing workshop.)

Keep an ongoing personal folder of articles and writers you like best. Reread them and make notes. Anything you see someone else doing, you can learn to do too!

 

Group activity: Everyone brings in a favorite article and briefly shares what they admire about it. Ask and answer questions. Having one person present could also be a great way to start journal meetings.

 

Part 4: Trying it out – A Tiny Writing Plan

As an exercise, try this Tiny Writing Plan for a potential article (or three!) that you would write.

 

Tiny Writing Plan

  1. Brainstorm some topics, subjects, or ideas you’re interested in writing about (see Part 1). Ask yourself what would reach your desired audience (see Part 2). Narrow your selections down to a single, focused topic.
  2. Answer the following questions in a few short sentences/bullet points: What difference does a/your Christian perspective make? How does a Christian perspective actually enhance our understanding? Why is a Christian perspective good news?
  3. In one sentence, explain what you’re trying to do/argue/say in this article. You may wish to phrase this as a question you’re asking.
  4. Set yourself a word count, so you can get a sense of the scope you’re working with. (Articles you listed in Part 3 can give you a good frame of reference.)
  5. In a few short sentences/bullet points, list next steps you need to take (e.g. research you still need to conduct, people to talk to, counterarguments to address, examples…). Also, write down at least three questions you still have.

Group activity: Make a Tiny Hypothetical Journal Issue with all your Tiny Writing Plans. What do you think of this issue? What else would you want it to have?

 

Part 5: Your writing process

5a) Was the Tiny Writing Plan helpful to you? (Whether you answered yes or no, great! That’s information for you!)

5b) What is your writing process like? You can consider how you’ve written anything in the past, from essays for class to personal statements. Describe the actual steps you take (“first I read the assignment sheet, then I make a cup of coffee…” – really! Be honest – you are trying to get to know your own process!). How much time do you need? Do you work better at a certain time of day? Do you finish one draft before revising, or do you edit in your head as you go? You may wish to see how Professor James K. A. Smith lays out his process here in Question 8: https://storify.com/AugustineCollec/james-k-a-smith

5c) Make two columns. In the left column, list any recurring problems you have (I spend too long on research, I’m indecisive about my topic, I can’t find time to write…). In the right column, list solutions (e.g. confine research to an hour at a time…).

 

Group activity: Discuss your answers. Help one another come up with solutions for 5c).

 


Note: Everyone’s process is different and may change over time. You might not even work on any two pieces of writing the same way. But getting to know your own writing process is immensely rewarding and even kind of fun!

 

“No writing is wasted. Did you know that sourdough from San Francisco is leavened partly by a bacteria called lactobacillus sanfrancisensis? It is native to the soil there, and does not do well elsewhere. But any kitchen can become an ecosystem. If you bake a lot, your kitchen will become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted. Likewise, cheese makers wash the dairy floor with whey. Tomato gardeners compost with rotten tomatoes. No writing is wasted: the words you can’t put in your book can wash the floor, live in the soil, lurk around in the air. They will make the next words better.” –Erin Bow