Writing guards me against vague thinking. Complete sentences help to form complete thoughts. In casual conversation, I can refer to something that I thought I believed, only to find it derailed by a simple inquiry from my 9 year-old. Writing, however, forces a careful consideration of the reader, even if that reader will only be me. Clarity in writing is premised on clarity in thinking, and—curiously—the writing process helps to clarify thought. Writing forces the issue, exposes the holes, reveals the inconsistent, displays the contradictory. As the virtuous writing-thinking-writing circle spins up, errors are exposed, paths are illuminated, breakthroughs are made. The writer shapes the words, and the words shape the writer.
An implicit question for almost any seriously-written word is simply, “Does this make sense?” Any sci-fi author on the receiving end of a tweet storm about the time-space continuum can tell you that even fantasy must be communicated sensibly. In this way, the act of writing provides an antidote to the toxic superficialities that other more passive forms of “engagement” propagate through their channels and feeds. Digital hyperbole can be as vicious and self-contradictory as it is precisely because it is bite-sized, mindless, and ephemeral. They’ll be all-caps YELLING something else in an hour. In contrast, a cohesively written piece has the powerful ally of carefully considered words — words that were first considered, then reconsidered, and finally wrestled down by their writer.
Writing clarifies, but clear thought is merely writing’s penultimate gift. If clarified thinking is on the other side of clear writing, then clarified belief is on the other side of clear thought. Sound thinking helps to form and reform belief. “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” said the apostle. If my motivation for writing is to clarify thinking, then my purpose for writing is to mold belief — beginning with myself and extending to others.
We all believe something. My way of life, my ambitions, and my affections are premised on some supposition. What makes the good life? Which is the way to the desired destination? How is the preferred outcome achieved? All people are pursuing answers to these questions in one way or another. Even the most data-driven among us can’t escape Pascal’s wager. Each of us has laid our chips on the table. We all believe that something or other supplies the most promising pursuit of happiness.
Clarity of thought exposes existing beliefs and — critically — illuminates better beliefs. “The truth shall set you free,” Jesus said. The liberating truth he referred to wasn’t isolated in a diagnostic test tube or privatized in an individual boutique experience. “The truth,” says Jesus in effect, “is that everyone is following something or someone; everyone practices discipleship to something.” He is right. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” he said. Here the Incarnate Word exhorts with his Spoken Word to abide in his Written Word. He is calling anyone who would listen out of default, passive belief and into liberating, intentional belief.
This is why I write: to be set free from wonted belief, and to be drawn into accord with reality. My audience is me and people like me — in my church, in my neighborhood, and in my city. We are all confronted with a perpetual wall of noise that passively distracts and actively deceives. Without the exposure and relocation of our hearts’ presuppositions, we are like those to whom Jesus was originally speaking: utterly beholden to and trapped by the very things we purport to authenticate our liberty. It is an especially devastating kind of entrapment to believe I am freed by that which entangles me.
But the inverse gives hope: the retuning of our hearts' beliefs to resonate with the truth. What if my job was no longer to survey and select from an ocean of self-actualization techniques? What if my task was no longer to manufacture “my truth” from the disparate parts of my own conflicting desires and an ever-changing zeitgeist? What if instead, someone made a way for me to sing in concert with a singular, radiant, created intent?
That would be freedom.