Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Churchgoers: Good News?

Turns out I had one more post in me for 2010.  A study released last week showed that the happiest churchgoers are those that have lots of friends within their congregations, irrespective of individual devotional life and sense of connection to God.  I found myself troubled by these findings, and I have written a response that was picked up by The Washington Post.

Are Happy Churchgoers Good News? by Adam McHugh, Washington Post's On Faith

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mary or Martha during Advent?

This is most likely my last post of the year, so I'll try to make it a good one.  You may have read my article, "A Counter-Cultural Quiet in Advent" a couple of weeks ago, in which I confess my spiritual struggles during this beautiful season on the church calendar.  I propose that we simplify our celebrations and devote time to quiet and solitude as well as to corporate celebration.

My suggestions are not uncommon among Christians who feel a little disillusioned with our cultural celebrations, but if we're honest, reshaping the nature of the season presents some significant social problems.  I was reading through the Advent section of Living the Christian Year a few days ago, in which the author, Bobby Gross makes some similar suggestions as I do. He then recounts a conversation he had with a friend over this issue:

"My struggle boils down to this," bemoaned my friend Courtney. "You can't be Mary and Martha at the same time; someone has to do the cooking!" She vented this frustration after a dinner party where the conversation had turned to the tension between Advent as a spiritual season and December as a month of cultural craziness. "Your description of Advent requires Mary time," she said in a later email,

yet of all the times of the year - especially for a woman with children and a conscience - Advent is the most impossible to be Mary-like. The Christmas machine (church, school, family, neighborhood, office, charitable activities) is so giant that it would require radical steps to extricate oneself. Steps that could send a message to one's community of being uncharitable and that could feed resentment in one's own family." Living the Christian Year, p. 45

That's a really provocative statement, right?  So, my question is, if you were respond to Courtney over email, what would you say to her?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Phases of Writing

I'm delighted that my article, "The Writer as Madman and Mystic," is the headline article on today.

That article was actually inspired by the blog post below, which I wrote a couple of years ago while in the midst of writing my book.

Phases of Writing

Writing a book is like giving birth to a snarling 8 headed monster. It's so much more than sitting down in front of your laptop and typing. It's more like a war, as your own words and ideas battle you and each other. In writing your hopes, dreams, fears and inadequacies are exposed. You learn what it is you most want in life and how incompetent you are to actually achieve it.

I've written seven and a half chapters in Introverts in the Church now, and I've identified some patterns in the process, some phases that I invariably go through:

1. The "Aha" phase. This is the phase of researching, thinking, and interviewing. This is the phase of discovery, as I begin to see things I had not seen before. I have great synergistic moments as I talk with others and we find that we share thoughts, experiences, and hopes. I'll be reading a book and a sentence or a concept will practically shout out to me. I'll begin to believe that I have valuable things to say and that others will be interested.

2. The "Pulitzer Prize" phase. This is the phase of conceptualizing, organizing, and outlining. Inevitably I get here and my ego tries to leap out of my body and make itself known. Here I become convinced that my ideas are brilliant and my writing is profound. No one has ever written a book this sublime. Stephen Hawking will read my book and say "Why didn't I think of that?!"

3. The "Total Incompetence" phase. This one follows about ten minutes on the heels of the Pulitzer Prize phase. I'll encounter the first obstacle in writing my chapter and my ego will not only find its way back into my body but shrink to 1/8th its normal size. This is where I will question everything I've ever known about the world and myself, including why in the world I thought I could write a book. This is where the dark scenarios creep in and I'll imagine my manuscript sitting in my editor's trash can, the smoke still floating off the singed pages. Or someone going to review my book and being unable to do so because the astonished tears of laughter keep him from being able to see straight.

4. The "Complete Disorientation" phase. Once I power through stage 3 and finish a draft of my chapter, I go to read it over and immediately move into this phase. My first draft tends to be very rough and practically stream of consciousness writing. If I don't know where something should go, I'll just write it anyway. So it feels like a bunch of random paragraphs that have no organic relationship to anything that comes before them or after. My head will be spinning as I try to read it over. This is the phase where I find myself cleaning my apartment a lot - my manuscript may be a mess, but dammit, my writing space will be clean!

5. The "It doesn't totally suck" phase. After rewriting several times, I get to a point where I think that maybe there are a few nuggets of insight in here and maybe a few people will actually want to read it. There is a small measure of contentment and sense of accomplishment here. Then, it's back to step one.

On that note, I'm entertaining this book title:

It Doesn't Totally Suck
by Adam S. McHugh

Friday, December 10, 2010

Are writers crazy? Maybe.

What do C.S. Lewis, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ernest Hemingway, Philip Yancey, and Stephen King have in common?  Two things: 1. They're all writers and 2. They're all featured in my new article about the madness of the writing life on Crosswalk

I spend a lot of time reading what other writers say about writing. It's an excellent way to procrastinate from actually writing. In reading the words of seasoned authors, who themselves are usually writing about writing in order to avoid other projects, I have discovered two recurring themes. The process of writing may very well make you crazy. And it may also make you a mystic.

To read the rest of the article, entitled "The Writer as Madman and Mystic," click here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Church Calendar

I'm a big fan of the church calendar. Growing up in evangelical circles, I hadn't even heard of the church calendar until seminary.  But since then I find the idea of matching our rhythms with the rhythms of the Church - both contemporary and ancient - deeply meaningful.  The church calendar constantly brings us back to the story of Jesus - rejoicing at his birth and anticipating his return during Advent, preparing for his death during Lent, celebrating his resurrection during Easter, and obeying his commission during Pentecost. And there is Ordinary Time, which is actually far from ordinary, because it reminds us that God is always inbreakingly present, in every circumstance of our lives, even when it seems monotonous. 

Advent is the beginning of the new church year, so if you are not familiar with the church calendar, now is a great time to consider it.  Here are a few pieces to read to get you started:

My friend Mark Roberts is in the middle of an introductory series on the liturgical year 

I love this Advent reflection by Rob Bell at RELEVANT

I've been using Bobby Gross' book Living the Christian Year for the past few months and I absolutely love it.  I'm going to post a quote from this book sometime during the Advent season.

Also check out The Circle of Seasons by Kimberlee Ireton

What's your experience of the church calendar? Do you have other resources you recommend?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent for Introverts

(12/5 Update - Scholar and blogger Scot McKnight has re-posted this article on his blog, and it's a great chance to participate in the conversation!)

A Counter-Cultural Quiet in Advent
Adam McHugh

For some people, the Advent season on the church calendar is one of the most anticipated times of the year. For some, there is no other time in which their love of God is stronger, there is no other time in which they are more aware of God's mercy in their lives and in the world, there is no other time in which their hearts go out to others with such affection, and there is no other time in which their joy is more profound.

I am not one of those people.

Read the rest of this article at Patheos by clicking here