Ted Grimsrud—February 15, 2019
I was born in Eugene, Oregon, back in the mid-1950s and lived my first eighteen years in the tiny town of Elkton, Oregon, about an hour’s drive southwest of Eugene. After a couple of years going to college in Monmouth, Oregon, I ended up back in Eugene at the University of Oregon and except for a couple of excursions for graduate school spent the next twenty years there.
It’s now been almost twenty-five years since our family moved away from the West Coast, the last twenty-two being in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Part of my soul remains in Oregon, though. When I raise my eyes from my computer right now, I look west. I do that a lot, often for minutes at a time. Sometimes, I’m just taking a break. But often my mind moves to the years gone by and to the sensibilities of the world in which I grew up. I’m still that person in so many ways.
The lure of writing
For as long as I remember, I wanted to be a writer. I decided in middle school to major in journalism, thinking at the time of being a sportswriter. I got the degree but decided against the career path. My writing energies turned in a more, I guess I could call it, ecclesial and academic direction. As a pastor and college professor, I did write a lot, some of which was published. I imagined when I retired from teaching a couple of years ago that the writing would come easier and my productivity would ratchet up. So much for the best laid plans. It’s been kind of interesting for me in that the ideas have continued to bubble up as much as ever, but the actual effort to turn the ideas into something concrete has not been as easy to generate as I had hoped.
I have moved forward on several projects, but not at anything close to the rate I had hoped to and with as yet no publishable fruit. I still have hopes. I may be a couple of years older, but other than some arthritic discomfort that ironically first emerged about a week after I turned in my final set of grades, I feel that I have as much potential for productivity as ever.
For a variety of reasons, some clear, some inchoate, I have decided that some self-conscious blogging might help move me forward. Part of what I hope to address in the days to come is some more reflections on the process of (and difficulty in) writing in our present context, with least some autobiographical reflection. At this moment, though, I simply want to note what I hope to do more than why. I imagine most days sitting down and typing for an hour, and then calling that blog post done. I imagine cranking out about a thousand words or so each time. One of the main emphases will be current affairs. But I expect to do some deeper theological reflection, to report on some of my bigger writing projects, to think about timeless kinds of issues, and who knows what else.
One of the reasons I have always wanted to write is simply because I have had things I want to think about and writing seems to help. It’s a way to think through something big—such as the process of writing books about how to interpret the book of Revelation, about how to think of salvation, and about how to respond to World War II. But it’s also a way to think about more immediate issues and concerns—articles, sermons, lectures, and magazine columns.
I’ve enjoyed writing blog posts over recent years. Occasionally, these have gained a bit of an audience—though only for brief times—and have stimulated some engaging conversations. But even when they didn’t seem to get any attention, I always felt good about writing them. So, I guess one way to frame what I hope to do with this “Looking West” series is that I hope to get into a habit of regular posting in order to give myself pleasure.
I know that blogging has seemingly lost a bit of its cache by now. I’m not trying to catch any waves of trendiness by investing energy into what now may be a passé medium. But I know that I will feel better each time I post something. And I also hope that having the regular discipline of setting fingers to the keyboard and letting my thoughts find their way on to the computer screen might grease the skids a bit to make it easier for some more large scale writing to happen.
By “Looking West” I guess I have in mind looking out my window through the trees to the mountains and imagining what’s beyond as a mode of reflection, even imagination. There are some thoughts out there just beyond the horizon waiting to be found and wrestled with and articulated. And it is also true that something of my sense of self and of having something to say links with the world of my first forty years of life out West.
Last night, before I went to sleep I decided to try this form of writing. Then I started thinking of possible themes and made a list. I don’t expect to address each of these and I, of course, expect many new ideas to bubble up if I do get some momentum going. But these are the kinds of random (and presently often cryptic) possibilities of what might be coming: squirrels, anti-semitism, Trump, Mennonitism, Tom Waits, cooking, losing weight, John Howard Yoder, grandchildren, road food, the Civil War, abortion, Ralph Northam, pacifism, New York City, freeways, electricity, big box stores, fatherhood, feminism, retribution, death, white supremacy, and rivers.
One of my more satisfying writing experiences came a number of years ago when I was asked to write a monthly column for a denominational magazine devoted, I guess, to spirituality (broadly defined). I was asked to write some reflections on peace each month related to the general theme for that issue of the magazine. I never got much feedback, but I thought it went pretty well. It was a creativity-enhancing experience to be told in a quite general way what I should write about but then having freedom about how to do that. So I thought about peace in relation to a number of things I wouldn’t have otherwise.
I envision this blog series to be a bit like that. Almost everything I can imagine writing about will be oriented toward my peace convictions. But I don’t know what all of those topics might be nor do I know exactly how they will relate to my core convictions. It should be fun to find out.
[This is a first in a series of blog posts under the rubric of “Looking West” that will include reflections on numerous issues of our current day—politics, theology, memoirs, spirituality, and what not. An index for the series may be found at “Looking West.”]