Blogging from the Ashes

drowning-in-ashesI am but dust and ashes.

Genesis 18:27

As far as my blog is concerned, I need to have things settled and digested in my own mind, before I impose them on others! I am not saying that this is what you do, as I view your blog more of an exploration of the spiritual and perhaps encouragement for fellow “travelers”, instead of a place for doctrinal pronouncements and apologetics.

-from a private email conversation

Ironically, this is almost exactly what Pastor Randy said to me about the difference in how we write during our most recent Wednesday night conversation. In talking to him and recalling my previous conversation with Rabbi Carl Kinbar about how and why I blog, I realized just how different I am from most people who write on the web, or even just most people who write.

If you’ve read the last few blog posts I’ve published, then you know that I’m backing away from the idea that anything I write, say, or do is any sort of rip-roaring big deal. I keep catching myself in mistakes. No, that’s not right. Other people keep catching me in mistakes. Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s arrogant to think you’ll never make a mistake, but it’s still no great honor, either.

I like the idea of being an explorer and I tend to think of myself and this blog in that light, but lately, I’ve been feeling like less like an explorer and more like a rat in a maze…and I keep finding all the dead ends instead of the cheese.

But in talking to Pastor Randy and turning everything over in my mind, I realized that my purpose in writing this blog isn’t to get things right all the time or to strive to conquer other people’s differing opinions of me and what I think about. Sure, I try to do that sometimes, and that’s when I start getting discouraged.

But while others may only publish their words in print (or electrons) once they’ve fully digested a topic and have come to what they believe is a rock-solid conclusion, that’s not what I’m trying to do. If that were my purpose, it would take me a lot longer to come up with even a single blog post, and these would become weekly or even monthly meditations, not every morning missives.

I’ve said before that as of 2011, there were an estimated 181 million blogs on the web. That makes any one blog (and blogger) seem pretty insignificant by comparison. Whenever I think about “winning,” I start feeling pretty insignificant as well, not just in terms of the blogging population on the Internet, but as far as people, friends, family, and God goes too.

dark_tunnelI’ve thought about quitting. I’ve thought about throwing in the towel because I can’t come up with “perfect” ideas or “perfect” ways to describe them in my blog. I’ve thought about quitting because people can shoot holes in everything I say or do all day long.

Then I realized that of course people can shoot holes in my thoughts. I’m not arriving at conclusions, at least not very many of them. As you read my blog posts, it’s important that you understand how they come into being. How do I write a blog post?

I start with a quote or an idea that has spawned some sort of interest in me. I have an amorphous thought of how I want to pursue my inspiration, but I don’t really have an endpoint in mind. That’s right, even as I’m keyboarding this, I really don’t know how it will end, which is why some of my posts are from 1000 to 1500 words long, and others exceed 3000 words. No outline, no pre-conceived structure, no bullet points or notes (well, sometimes I use notes) to guide me.

What you are reading is my mind in operation moment by moment, or at least as fast as I can type.

I don’t know anyone else who blogs like this. I explained to Pastor Randy that, based on the feedback I get, what I do is appreciated, at least by some folks, because lots and lots of people are processing the same sort of questions I am. It’s just not visible because no one blogs about “half-baked” thoughts. No one likes to serve up raw food unless its sushi, which is the finished product. The way I write is like watching someone trying to develop a recipe for something they’re going to cook in the near future, but you only later get to see some of the cooking and you may never taste what finally comes out of the oven.

I think that’s called “living.” We do it day by day and each day is a little different. God may never change, but our experiences with Him do, because if we’re growing spiritually, we change. Even if there are areas where I’m not changing, what’s reflected in my blog posts are the continuing struggle and engagement with that “stuck” place in my life. I think lots of people have a stuck place in their lives, too. I know a few people who have a hard time letting go.

Yesterday (as I write this), I felt pretty insignificant, very small, especially without purpose. But in talking to Pastor, I came to rediscover that I have a unique perspective or at least a unique way of expressing it. The point of my writing is not to sell you on my perspectives as being “right.” I’m not giving you answers. I haven’t come to many conclusions. I’m not some self-appointed guru out to sell you some form of enlightenment based on my “specialness” as teacher, or leader, or scholar, or any of that.

Well over three-hundred years ago, French mathematician and philosopher René Descartes famously said “cogito ergo sum” or “I think, therefore, I am.” In my case, it’s “I think/feel/experience/live, therefore I write.” That’s really the whole of it. What you see (read) is what you get.

If I had to know every thing and be right all the time, I’d be horribly trapped in a steel box, shackled in chains, imprisoned in my own need to have a carefully designed system that explained everything I write about. But writing as I do, just because I am, just because I live, is very liberating.


Being transparent is like flying, soaring up through the clouds. Like a phoenix at the keyboard, I’m blogging from the ashes and rising into the sky.

Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles.

Isaiah 40:31 (NASB)

Thanks, God. I needed the lift.

17 thoughts on “Blogging from the Ashes”

  1. I love this! So glad someone else feels this way too. I too, have received criticism for my beliefs or opinions. I have been told I should plan, map and conclude. Whatever happened to learning on the way? So much of my revelation comes as I write on one small seed of thought. Very much enjoyed your post. Thanks for your honesty.

  2. Seems to me you leave the door open for other folks to think along with you, so that the responses may function as a conversation, with opinions that flow this way and that. All things considered, that should encourage a less argumentative tone than an assertive polarizing blog with which the only options may be to agree or to argue, though I don’t know that it actually works out that way. Of course, you certainly do present opinions, which can’t help but serve as a foil for argumentation, but if you didn’t what would there be to discuss — how else would you get the ball rolling? I presume you derive some measure of pleasure from these discussions or you wouldn’t keep starting them. I know that I enjoy them.

  3. I find the most insightful reads are written by writers who accept who they are where they are. In fact, as a writer, that’s just the way I’ve (hopefully) gotten better at writing. I’ve exposed myself to myself, written that down, and asked God to help me make sense of it. The best part is – I now get so much enjoyment out of the writing process itself that the size of my audience has little to no bearing on my writing. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate my audience. In fact, I look forward to any and all feedback (especially negative, yet constructive) from my audience.

    I’m not sure why I said all that. I thoroughly enjoyed your post. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Welcome ajourneyinwords and One Man Versus the World. Glad you’re here and that you enjoyed what I wrote.

    Seems to me you leave the door open for other folks to think along with you, so that the responses may function as a conversation, with opinions that flow this way and that.

    That’s pretty much it, PL. Rather than digesting something and then distilling my conclusions about it in blogging, I am just talking about what I’m experiencing and sharing that to anyone who wants to listen (read) and hopefully, respond. Sometimes I am speaking to a particular demographic, but more often than not, I want to talk to whoever is out there and is wondering about the same things I wonder about. Who are we and why are we here? How can we talk to God and does He talk back? What sort of experience do you have with God at the intersection of a marriage between a Christian husband and a Jewish wife?

    God has the answers. I’m just a guy in the world asking a few questions.

  5. I see exploration as what faith/trust in God is all about.

    “But God is formless,” said the student. “How can you see something that is formless?”
    “G‑d is not something you see,” said the rabbi, “Seeing and G‑d are way apart!”

    I believe that it is helpful to constantly make the effort to “see” God… so important,, that even the term “God” gets in the way at times and I have to remove myself from the limits of that word to get closer to Him. If the Kabbalists are right and the tsimsum is the limitation of God, then there still is the Ein Sof… and we focus on Messiah Yeshua as the reflection of that and keep moving toward HaShem, the Father… as Jesus directed us to. I love and appreciate and utilize the inspiration the Jewish mystics have given us, the metaphors and alternative pathways to to approach the total magnificence of Elah Sh’maya V’Arah, God of Heaven and Earth. If it is not an exploration, what is it? I see this as a great often unacknowledged difference between “faith,” a word that is not in the Torah, and “trust,” which is.

  6. We can experience God in many ways, sometimes just by discussing Him and writing about Him and what it means to be in Him. Sometimes I find the process of writing itself to be transcendent.

  7. As a matter of fact it is safe to say that the Jewish sages have replaced the “Church Fathers” as my “go-to” source for direction as regards my seeking the face of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a paradigm shift of titanic proportion if you think about it. It is all about trust and the “Church Fathers” are relegated to an [increasingly distant] second place in my paradigm of trust.

  8. It probably seems the same for me, Dan. On the other hand, I can’t ignore the Christian “sages” because they also have unique insights into God and particularly the Messiah. Derek Leman is starting a new blog series based on the writings of N.T. Wright who I guess you could call a “Christian sage.” Daniel Lancaster recently encouraged me to read Scot McKnight’s book “The King Jesus Bible,” which I’ve yet to get to, so I think there’s wisdom to be gleaned from both sides of the aisle, so to speak.

  9. Hi James. I still read most of your blog post. I don’t comment much, but enjoy them. I like your approach to blogging. I don’t like it when everything has to turn in to a debate and one person trying to one-up their opinion over another. I think the kinder, gentler approach like you have been blogging about lately is the best way. Just answering,,,”yes, I appreciate your input, thank you.” Instead of the back and forth pulling a scripture here and there and trying to prove each other wrong. Even though I can’t relate to you in one sense: My spouse is not Jewish, but I can relate in some ways because my spouse and I aren’t always on the same page on spiritual things.
    Thank you James. I appreciate you and your willingness to share what you are thinking about.

  10. Writing is a medium for transcending for me, as well. I teach writing as a method of representing the King of kings. We do not write in one direction, but two: to speak OF Him and grow TOWARD Him at the same time. This is not an incongruity, to write in two directions at once. We are, as both Lewis and Tolkien spoke, “sub-creators,” not creators, and we must use what we have before us to speak Of the King, but also, to build our “stairway to Heaven” as an approach to seeing the face of the King.

  11. Yes, there are “church fathers” that loved the Lord, as well. It is a kind of “chew the peanut and spit out the shell” process of ingesting them…

  12. It is a kind of “chew the peanut and spit out the shell” process of ingesting them…

    @Dan: Agreed. All sages are also men and as such, they and we produce a certain amount of flowering wisdom and sadly, a certain amount of weeds, all in the same field. We just have to, as you say, “chew the peanut and spit out the shell.”

    @Joy: Thank you for your kind words and continuing to visit and read my missives.

  13. James fan’s, assemble!

    In all honesty though, friend, visiting your blog and reading your thought pieces is always a treat for me. You’re the only blog that I actually check, every day. I have been blessed by your readings, friend, and judging by some of the other “old timers” commenting above, I’m surely not alone.

    We all bless each other in ways we might never know. Kinda cool aint it? 😉

    Much love and peace, to you.


  14. Hi James,
    I laughed at the idea one should have it “right” or “rock solid” before they express their opinions. For if this was actually the case, the “experts” would be in agreement, and clearly they are not, even in subjects like science, much less in things spiritual and historical.

    My blog is also an exploration, and revelation of my family’s journey, and isn’t going to be always “spot-on” as I’m new in Holocaust studies and learning new things and also piecing together stuff I’ve known for a very long time, however, perhaps I’ve got a corner piece placed wrong here and there. (Hopefully Dan and others will correct me when needed.)

    That said, I also feel a weight that I should be careful, not so much with what I write, but with what I publish. It’s impossible to know how our words land and I do feel God holds us responsible for what we say, either with our voice or keyboards. So I look over my stated goals before I write, which include:

    Glorify God, edify readers, point to Messiah’s true identity, etc. I also have a “what my blog is not” category, which includes:

    What SWJ is NOT:

    An “experts” blog
    A call to leave the church, or to “convert”

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  15. James fan’s, assemble!

    Now this is just getting embarrassing, Nate. 😉

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    Thank you for your kindness and, as always, the thoughtfulness of your own writing, Ruth.

  16. I like “half-baked” writing a whole lot better than “baked.”

    Truth is, outlines annoy me. Thesis statements set my teeth on edge. All the “rules” about “good writing” are just baffling. You either have the gift of communicating with the written word or you don’t. And you, my friend, have that gift.

    You don’t set yourself up as someone who has all the answers. You’re on the journey with the rest of us and you’re seeking the One who knows all. You point us to Him. That is honorable. That is a form of worship. I have no doubt that the Lord smiles upon you! Just keep doing your thing!

  17. And you, my friend, have that gift.

    Thanks, Marie. I’m touched.

    To be fair though, there is a lot of room in this world for prepared, well-crafted and researched scholarly writing, so it doesn’t all have to be “off the cuff,” so to speak. The trick is to not judge one type of writing or self-expression by the standards of another.

    You point us to Him. That is honorable. That is a form of worship. I have no doubt that the Lord smiles upon you! Just keep doing your thing!

    Thank you again. I can only hope that God is pleased or at least patient with how I express myself and record my journey with Him.


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