Thursday, August 21, 2008

Beginning Phobia.

I was thinking about my phobia of beginnings today, and it finally dawned on me why I am a philosophy major: the intro paragraphs. Philosophy papers are the easiest pieces of writing to start, because all you have to do is outline what you're going to say, start to finish. No need to waltz in with a catchy first line or capture attention with a fancy image-- your reader has not picked up "A Discourse on the Categorical Imperative" to be entertained. It is a straightforward writing plan that leaves no room for surprises.

It would be nice to give you the same kind of concise, well articulated map of my next few months in Peru. I, too, would love to know what my life will look like in 4 months- what I will have seen, heard, thought, and learned. But fortunately enough for those of us who prefer an adventure novel to a philosophical dialogue, God is in the habit of surprising us at every moment.

There's one more detail about philosophy papers I left out. Though the intro paragraph appears to be a stationary and rigid guideline, to the writer it's more like a breathing organism that, in the end, finally grows into its skin. The process looks like this: I take a position in an argument, logically walk the reader through the mental steps I took, throw in some evidence, and lead them up to my conclusion. Inevitably, as soon as I start writing, things get muddled.

In the last paper I wrote, I began trying to explain why Plato bashes poetry in the Republic. When I was flipping through the end, looking for evidence to support one of my points, all the sudden I see Plato using poetry. At this point I obviously had to rethink my initial position. After two or three completely different papers, I reached the conclusion that Plato critiques the poets for being "imitators," but he actually thinks poetry is the most effective way to communicate philosophical truths. I can't tell you how many beginnings I wrote for this paper before I finally got the roadmap and destination right. It wasn't until I typed the last word of the conclusion paragraph that I could accurately write the intro.

I have a feeling that the same will be true of the upcoming journey. If I were to write down my expectations and plans for the next few months now, I have no doubt I would laugh, come December. But at present I lay aside my picture of what awaits me on the other side of the runway in Peru. I cling only to the hope that I will learn and grow and give and love and do it all in the name of Jesus.