Ann Voskamp, Tim Challies, Beth Moore: Dinner and a Defense of Earnestness
A month ago I sat in an auditorium at the Festival of Faith and Writing waiting to hear author Ann Voskamp speak about story and beauty. I sat among rows and rows of eager fan-ladies, all of us longing to hear the sound of her voice, hoping she would whisper secrets to us about how to live and write and live on a farm and take perfect photos with a grateful heart.
Though I was not expecting Voskamp, the author of One Thousand Gifts, to arrive on stage cracking jokes and rolling her eyes (that's certainly not her style), I also wasn't expecting what came out: a honey-thick alto full of metaphor from the get go, an actual seed in her palm and the declaration (as far as I remember): "I am a seed in the palm of the one who grows all things."
Like many younger Americans, I have a tendency to accept rich metaphor and deep talk if it's surrounded by a little self-depreciation or a few moments of realigning one's words with the reality of the world. For instance, if Voskamp had said: "I know I'm dramatic, you guys, but sometimes I feel like I am a seed in the palm of the one who grows all things!"
Or, "You know me. Always a metaphor! But listen up: I am a seed in the palm of the one who grows all things."
If she had sighed and shrugged her shoulders, I wouldn't have been near so nervous, wiggling in my chair, threatening to giggle like a middle-school boy during the 7th grade sex talk: Too much metaphor too soon!
My generation (both in the church and outside of it) faults on the side of sarcasm. After all, we are the people who created and crowned Jon Stewart as our king of information. We see everything with an eye roll.
Our culture demands we make fun of ourselves before we are allowed to utter the deep or profound. We are expected to sarcastically apologize before stating the beautiful. Irony has become an entire language we speak with ease.
That's the thought I had as I caught myself squirming under Voskamp's words. I looked around, breathed a prayer of settling, and I eased into the earnestness. Once I did, I stopped needing a snarky joke or a self-deprecating remark. I just listened as she challenged me to write with beauty, to write like she spoke: without pretence or pose.
Much ado has been made in the past week over Tim Challies's recent, less than flattering review of Voskamp's book.
He starts off by criticizing Voskamp's poetic voice, which, as I have argued here, makes her book one of the best written to come out of the sorely-lacking prose of the Christian book industry. He criticizes her theology, her having been influenced by the works of authors like Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, and Dallas Willard. And, then, he critiques her as a mystic and, nearly, a panentheist. He writes that he fears Voskamp's book will "prove dangerous" for many readers.
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