Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

In Medias Res

August 26, 2008

Oftentimes, books are the grease that lubricates the gears in my mind. When I get too busy or distracted to read, I notice that my creativity and mindfulness suffer, and so I return to the stack of books that keeps me interacting with the world around me.

Recently, a couple of quotes from unrelated books seemed to mesh in my head. Greg Boyd‘s book cited a few lines from a writer I’ve never read, Lee Camp:

Having accepted the falsehood that we must run the world, we seek to get hold of the mantle of power. Consequently, ‘discipleship’ gets transformed: “following Jesus,” rather than denoting a walking in the way of the humble Suffering Servant, denotes being ‘spiritual’ as we seek to wield power over our fellows… Christians become convinced that they are pursuing the purposes of God by pursuing the purposes of the empire.

Which seemed to make some sense of my long-term dis-ease with the term ‘spiritual,’ a term that seems to abstract something fundamental (namely, God) from our everyday interactions. This use of the term seems to prefer the status quo painted over with platitudes to the actual lived expression of the hopes and dreams of God in our time and space. In fact, Camp seems to suggest that the main problem with the church is that American Christians are more ‘American’ than ‘Christian,’ and that they placate their conscience with piety instead of practice.

Another unrelated book that somehow related was Steven King’s On Writing (the first and only King book I’ve read, and one that riveted me with its simple storytelling and direct style). At one point, he was breezing through some literary techniques, and mentioned the term ‘in medias res’ in passing. It means ‘from the midst of life’, and is a way of telling a story by beginning in the middle of that story (so, as Wikipedia helpfully points out, like the beginning of every Star Wars and Indiana Jones film).

What struck me about this term was just how simultaneously profound and obvious it is. Do we really need a fancy Latin term for something so commonplace? I mean, all of us are living in medias res, appearing in the middle of our own story, and trying to make sense of our history while heading toward the future. All of us are looking for God in the warp and woof of our lives. All of us are trying to write our stories in real time, interweaving elements of grace and love and joy to the larger themes of pain and disappointment which we all experience.

One of the reasons that The Wife pushed me to start this blog, in fact, was to explore this idea of embodied spirituality. To mark the God-sightings of one small life, and to chronicle the search for a Christianity that is not abstracted, but proven and practiced in medias res–right smack in the middle of my story.

Posted in:

3 Responses to “In Medias Res”

  1. Mike Croghan says:

    Good stuff, Mike.

    Makes me think: I know I personally sometimes I wish I were “there at the beginning” of something (like our church, for instance) or I hope that I’ll be there for some Great Success (such as when Christians well and truly take hold of the mantle of power – OK, not really), but like you say, real stories are always in medias res. Real life happens in the middle. Hope we don’t miss it.

  2. Ryan says:

    Cool stuff. I remember when the word spirtual took on meaning for me when I juxtaposed it with religious. I see what you are saying though. Perhaps, the paradigm shift can go even deeper, definitely something to chew on.

  3. Diane says:

    I too liked King’s On Writing and have never read his novels.

    It’s so hard not to be seduced by the way worldly power seems to offer solutions to problems. Thanks for the post.

    Why “The Wife” in capital letters? :)

Leave a Reply