A Christian Writer’s Journey

Journey

I’ve always been a dreamer, something that my father instilled in me from a very young age because he would say things like, “son if you work hard, you can be anything you want to be. Follow your dreams.”  I saw my old man write books, toil as a carpenter, and then go to law school. He practiced what he preached, rising from abject poverty to success through discipline and years of burning the candle at both ends. When I left the University of Florida to pursue a songwriting career, my dreams were vast and my ability limited. I had no idea how hard my road would be.

It occurs to me that I’ve had a lifelong problem managing my expectations, and this character trait has tarnished my relationships, my career, and my soul. When you shoot for the stars, mostly you don’t wind up where you thought you were going. The heart of the matter is pride. Leaning much upon my own understanding rather than upon God. So here’s my story, and perhaps some other folks can avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made, and perhaps with the telling of it, maybe I’ll finally wrap my head around the truth.

steps

I moved to Nashville way back in 1992 with a heart full of dreams and a cheap guitar. Those first years were heady, back when I knew I would  “make it,” and I figured that within a few years, I’d be living the dream. I played the Bluebird, penned hundreds of songs with fellow songwriters,  and wrote every single day. I saw, quickly, that I had much to learn. I’d been in town for about a month when I saw a writers round with Bob DePiro and Mike Reid… they slayed me with their talent. Every song was perfection, their vocals were mind-blowing, and their musical ability was so far beyond me that I saw there was an entire mountain yet to climb. I embraced it, and I learned, worked on my craft, mentored by some great writers. I had songs on hold for major artists, went to number one parties, and rubbed elbows with the movers and shakers of Music Row. Then I started doing a dangerous thing.

I began spending too much time gazing at where I wanted to be rather than what I needed to do to get there, and worse, whether that was where I should go. Enter the bitterness, the, sense of betrayal and the resentment. The great Harlan Howard, whom I had the great pleasure of spending time with, once said to a disgruntled songwriter, “well, nobody called and asked you to move to Nashville.” Right.He didn’t say that to me, but it would have bee spot on. Nobody told me to decide to become a writer..that was my choice. But the desire to succeed was eating my soul, clouding my vision and ultimately hurting my music. Some of my fellow writers nicknamed me “Doctor Doom.”

guitar

I moved back to Florida following a divorce and the feeling of being let down in my songwriting career (or lack thereof,) thinking that I could leave writing in my rear-view mirror. I was wrong, and I started writing fiction, which didn’t require the same sort of schmoozing and glad-handing that songwriting seems to. When I got my first publishing deal, I was ecstatic. I’d signed a contract for a trilogy, and I hadn’t even written two of the books yet. I decided I would be a wildly successful author within perhaps a year or two. I’m hard headed, obviously, though my wife uses more colorful words to describe my frequent and woeful lack of understanding.

It takes years of hard work, multiple books, and networking, and talent to make it as an author. Like any other artistic endeavor, it’s a subjective thing, and people will buy what people buy. I find the writing in Fifty Shades of Grey to be awful, but tens of millions of people strongly disagree; E.L. James reached the stars by connecting with her readers, and more power to her. I could undoubtedly learn a thing or two from her. So, I’m writing, working, knowing it takes time, and trying not to chafe against that knowledge. Trying to enjoy the journey, and not focus on the destination.

During these decades of writing, I burned down one marriage and almost destroyed another. One of the central reasons this happened is because I expect things to go my way, and when they don’t, I get rankled. My essential impatience, my propensity to reach beyond my means to grasp. Marriage is hard work, and when things go south, which they will in any marriage at some point, I’ve had the feeling that things should be right again quickly. Wounds should heal, others should change, I should change…if not overnight, then within a time frame that I deem acceptable. Utter nonsense. It’s destructive. Because, once again, that resentment sets in and things only get worse. You end up feeling like you’re wasting your time, and when a sense of futility becomes pervasive, it’s already almost too late. It takes discipline and hard work to make it back from that.

Against this backdrop, I’ve experienced the same sort of impatience with God. It sounds as dumb as it is, yet when I’m in the midst of it, I can’t see it, missing the forest for the trees. I cry out to God, asking for help with more selfishness than humility: Help me make it as a writer, help my marriage, please send a briefcase full of money from the sky!  When I don’t get the quick results I desire, I feel betrayed. Like no one is really listening. Like the songs on the radio are full of false promises, and that the Word itself has misled me. But I have misled myself by choosing to focus on the wrong things, by hearing what I want to hear instead of the truth.

The truth is, life can be terrible, hard, and mean. And there is no assurance of a good outcome for any of us on this earth simply because we choose to follow God. The whole idea of abundance theory preached in many mega-churches is dangerous drivel.  It’s connected to Calvinism and the idea that success is predestined, a concept which helped to form the Protestant Work Ethic and build a nation, but which in many ways undermines the deeper message of the gospel. This Calvinistic attitude spawns the belief that poor are poor because God has decided it, and conversely that the wealthy are wealthy because they have earned favor in the eyes of the Lord. This belief system is insidious. Ask the Paul, Peter and Timothy about that.

Because the assurance and peace Jesus and the Apostles talk about is the eternal kind, not the earthly kind, and the our peace on this rock is found in knowing this and feeling fulfilled and joyous despite our circumstances. Salvation, peace, and joy are not things we have earned, but which come, ultimately, through the grace of God. Apart from God, I can do nothing. I am worth nothing. And this, perhaps, is the central truth I’ve missed over and over again.

The story isn’t mine. It never was. Paul extolls us in Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our fate…”  I’m an author, yet I’m not THE author. I focus on the things which I want, the tangible trappings of success, and I fix my gaze upon that which I cannot obtain alone. I cling to my pride like a talisman and wonder why I become disillusioned. I truly want to reach people, to touch lives and be a force of light, but I’ve been going about it all wrong, putting my own story ahead of the most important story.

It will take hard work and discipline, and faith, but when I look back twenty years from now, I pray I will be able to say that I was living and writing for the right reasons, not the wrong ones, and that I released my foolish pride, my selfish expectations, and human arrogance. By emptying myself, I pray that God will fill me with His spirit and that the kind of peace which matters is the peace I will have found.

I still have a mountain to climb, and my way is unclear. I have much to learn, and am certain I will falter. I am not alone, and in this knowledge I will rest assured, striving to fix my eyes on Jesus, my sole destination.

http://www.amazon.com/Wrath-Redemption-Sean-T-Smith-ebook/dp/B00SXOLOEQ/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Altering the cycle… Love and Hate in America

mk

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

   Martin  Luther King, Jr

Baltimore burns and the nation cringes. We see the non-stop coverage on CNN, the same inflammatory images repeating on an endless loop. Hate is like that, too. It doesn’t stop until we turn it off; unfortunately many people are turning it up, until rhetoric is a scream which drowns out any sort of hope to solve the underlying problems. The racial problems in this country, from economic disparities and police violence, to political disenfranchisement must be addressed. The nation is hurting and the rage seethes just beneath the surface, spilling out into the streets with increasing ferocity.

I’ve seen a staggering number of internet posts claiming that our current racial tensions are President Obama’s fault. The people who believe that are deluded. When Obama was elected the racists kicked into high gear, really putting their backs into it, finding ways to sow fear and cruelty and divisiveness. Hate-mongers with microphones and laptops have done their best to frame issues in the meanest, most lopsided ways possible, worsening a greater problem.

So the cycle continues something like this: poverty, lack of opportunity, and a toxic environment lead to a feeling of powerless, gut-wrenching anger. When racial profiling and police brutality are not only systemic, but systematically denied by governments, those same people get even angrier. They protest. Most of them are peaceful, but violence erupts, gasoline on the fire. While the news spends 90% of its time playing the inflammatory images of police getting hit by bricks or of stores burning, the media misses the greater story. The country misses the truth, and the truth is not black and white. The greater story, the real one, is more complicated… it’s more than one story. The one where blacks and whites are working together for positive change. The story of children handing out water bottles to police officers, cops risking their lives to save teenagers, grandmothers and fathers marching for justice that has thus far been elusive. The story that black teenagers know all too well, of the conversation their parents had with them when they first got their driver’s license. “If you get pulled over, keep your hands in sight at all time. Say ‘yes, sir,’ and don’t make any sudden moves.”  White kids don’t get that talk.

White people and black people alike are appalled by this violence in Baltimore. It’s counter-productive. It only serves to confirm racist suspicions coiled around the back of many people’s minds, triggering otherwise sane and seemingly decent people to spout bile like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Rather than stepping back for a moment and asking why these people are so angry, it’s easier to say “what kind of people burn their own city?”

And there it is, couched in what passes for discourse and news coverage. Words like us and them…Those people. There is an “otherness” about the dialogue, rather than a togetherness. Hate, rather than love.

Racism and bigotry are a choice. If this nation is to heal, each of us must do some collective soul-searching. We’ve got to choose love over hate. We must place a priority on our nation’s future, and that means creating more jobs and educational opportunities, putting an end to the bloodbath taking place every day in our inner cities. It means voting for leaders who recognize the severity of the problem and who offer realistic ways to address it, regardless of what party they happen to be affiliated with.

Rather than be outraged at the violence we’re seeing on the news, we should be shocked for the reasons it is happening. We must come together as one people in the spirit of unity and love, for that is the only way to end this cycle of hate.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Sean-T-Smith/dp/1618682245/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1430488688&sr=8-1&keywords=objects+of+wrath